Monday, May 25, 2020

Adolph Menzel's Hochkirch Painting

Adolph Menzel (German 1815-1905) undertook this ambitious painting without a commission. It was a battle scene, but it didn't glorify the war.

Adolph Menzel, Frederick the Great and His Men in the Battle of Hochkirch
(Night Attack at Hochkirch),
1856, oil on canvas, 295 x 378 cm,
destroyed during the Second World War
It shows Frederick the Great's soldiers engaged "in a crushing defeat suffered during the Seven Years War, and, to make matters worse, a defeat that could be laid entirely at the feet of the king and that cost the lives of a sizable number of his leading generals, not to mention those of nine thousand soldiers, was not a painting that lent itself to propaganda purposes or the the glorification of the Hohenzollern dynasty."

Nevertheless, the painting was much talked about, and eventually it was bought by the king. What helped sell it was the argument, which Menzel made in a letter to the king, that the painting shows Frederick's nobility in the way he accepted defeat.

The work took Menzel a long time to complete. It come down to us in photographs of poor quality, because the canvas itself was destroyed in World War II.
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Quote from the book Adolph Menzel: The Quest for Reality by Werner Busch.

3 comments:

Forrest said...

James, have you ever covered the use of dynamic symmetry in these masterful compositions. It's there, if you know what to look for. Do you use symmetry when designing a composition?

CatBlogger said...

I've been reading your book "Color and Light." You write about using gamut maps in your oil paintings. Do you pick the caesin underwash colors and watercolor/gouache colors for your sketchbook work based in a gamut map?

Christian Schlierkamp said...

plus: king Frederick William IV displayed the painting only in a dark backroom, where servants would prepare the dishes which upset Menzel very much,for it took him so much energy to convince the court to buy the piece.