Although he was intelligent and witty, he spoke gruffly, not wanting to be pitied. He kept to himself and never married. (Portrait of Menzel by Boldini).
Adolph von Menzel (1815-1905) did have one constant companion: his sketchbook. An acquaintance recalled:
“In his overcoat he had eight pockets, which were partially filled with sketchbooks, and he could not comprehend that there are artists who make the smallest outings without having a sketchbook in their pocket. On the lower left side of his coat, an especially large pocket was installed, just large enough to hold a leather case, which held a pad, a couple of shading stumps and a gum eraser.”
He was self-taught. He didn’t care for the idealization of the academies. He wanted to draw things as they were. He worked in all media, but his drawings, generally made with soft graphite are the most surprising and disarming.
He did innumerable studies of poor people. He was one of the first artists to portray the inside of a factory.
He also painted royalty. In this scene of a fancy ball, he couldn’t resist including a group of gentlemen gobbling food (lower left), an undignified, but very human act.
His drawings show a universal empathy. Perhaps because of his own unusual appearance, he was fascinated with chronicling the physiognomies of his fellow humans with a fusion of frankness and compassion.
In Menzel’s work, grace often lies hidden behind unglamorous appearances. He once said, “A person not only acts with, but also has, a certain external appearance, and the latter is as inconsequential as it is accidental.”
Quote is from “Adolph Menzel, Master Drawings from East Berlin.”
Links added later:
Menzel post on Bearded Roman, link.
Wikimedia Commons gallery, link.