Friday, July 29, 2016

Menzel the Sketcher

Adolph Menzel’s drawing supplies accompanied him everywhere, whether on a short walk or a long journey. He was always prepared to draw. One of his overcoats had eight pockets, each filled with sketchbooks of different sizes.

On the lower left side of his coat was an especially large pocket which held a leather case with a big sketchbook, some pencils, a couple of shading stumps, and a gum eraser. 

Bärtiger Mann herabblickend [Bearded man, looking down]. 1887.
Carpenter’s pencil on paper. 20.8 x 12.8 cm. [8.2 x 5 in.] GSS 

His personal motto was “Nulla dies sine linea” (”Not a day without aline”). He drew ambidextrously, alternating between the left and the right, sometimes on the same drawing. 

If he was ever caught without drawing paper, he sketched on whatever was available, even a formal invitation to a court ball. Whenever he was spotted at a social event, the whispered word went abroad that “Menzel is lurking about.”

Zeichender Junge, am Tisch [Boy drawing at a table]. 1837.
Pencil. 16.6 x 10.3 cm. [6.5 x 4.1 in.] KK.
Copyright © bpk/ Kupferstichkabinett/SMB 

He was known to interrupt an important gathering by pulling out his sketchbook, sharpening his pencil, casting an eye around the room, and focusing on a coat, a chair, or a hand. This sometimes brought the proceedings to a halt until he finished. 

He preferred to draw people unawares, often catching them in unflattering moments of eating, gossiping, or dozing. Once his friend Carl Johann Arnold awoke from a nap to find the artist busily drawing his portrait. “You just woke up five minutes too early,” Menzel told him. 

This is an excerpt from the Introduction of my new book from Dover. The images in this post all appear in the book. The book contains 130 images, including 32 pages of color. Note: the listing on Amazon shows the incorrect cover.

Here's the link if you'd like to order a signed copy from my website store (I can ship to addresses in the USA only, because of the high shipping rates overseas, sorry). If it's a gift book and you want me to sign it to someone in particular, just make a note on the order form.

Adolph Menzel: Drawings and Paintings from


Tom Hart said...

A bit of a random thought, and (I suppose) a mini-crusade of mine: I bet that if he lived two or three centuries earlier, there would be some who claimed he must have used a camera obscura, based on the precision of his work. But I'm guessing there's no evidence of that at all, and further, based on the working habits you describe, I'm sure he'd bristle at the suggestion.

Do you have any idea of how he approached a drawing - i.e. blocking-in versus starting at a specific area (like nose or eyes) and working outward, windowshade style?

Unknown said...

I have always loved the studious nature of Menzel; inspirational for sure.

Unknown said...

His creation of sketching are good. They look like alive when you contact with the eye.Nice artwork of menzel. Visit us Securities Lawyer

Linda Navroth said...

Funny...this almost sounds a bit like you, James!

Mitch said...

Hello James,

After going to the link provided to purchase directly from you, I then clicked "proceed to checkout" - which then results in the message "your cart is currently empty."

Is the book already sold out from your site? If so, darnnit...and congratulations!


Elena Jardiniz said...

You are VERY hard on my bank account, dammit. But yes, bought the book and can't wait to get my grubby mitts on it.

James Gurney said...

Hi, MItch, I'm not sure why it did that, except you have to make sure you add one to your cart before you proceed to checkout maybe? We still have stock and we're still getting orders.

Linda, he's my hero for sketching obsessiveness. Where can I get a coat with 8 pockets.

Thanks and sorry, Elena.

Tom, I'll answer your excellent question in tomorrow's post.

My Pen Name said...

Just ordered my copy from your site James... looking forward to reading more of your insights in the book...

I actually found this little tidbit very motivating.. it reminds me of of the author Louis Auchinecloss - who had a 'day job' using little scraps of time to put together a novel:

How did you manage to combine a full-time law career with such extraordinary productivity as a writer?

What I learned to do was use bits and slices of time. If you learn that you can cover an enormous amount of ground. I’d go to Surrogate’s Court and listen to the calendar being called for a particular case – it might come up in 10 minutes or in an hour – I thought, look, I could write then. Lots of writers think you need rest and calm, your slippers and a cigar, and all that. That’s all very well if you can have those things, but you don’t need them. So I picked up a great deal of time that way. If you have a notebook, you can fill that in constantly.

Mitch said...

Hi James,

It was definitely a fleeting glitch of some sort - but it's working now. I just ordered my copy from your site and am looking forward to it!


YulBlog said...

Preorders being accepted now until August 17 release date -- says Amazon

Unknown said...

I am not able to buy the Menzel buy the book on your site! Is anyone else having this problem?