Montag, 25. Januar 2016

Memories on Adolph Menzel - Carl Johann Arnold, part I

2016 is the 200th anniversairy year of Adolph Menzel. I would thus like to take the opportunity to post a couple of translations of original german sources of letters and statements of friends and acquaintances that I did for my friend James Gurney in preparation of a book on Adolph Menzel.

I will start with the memories of Carl Johann Arnold, the son of Menzel's close friend and fosterer Carl Heinrich Arnold.

Carl Johann Arnold is one of the few art students that Menzel instructed personally and who himself became a painter.

"Gallows Humor", 1873, Carl Johann Arnold

Carl Johann Arnold

Memories of my living together with Adolph Menzel, part I

With the following I don't want nor can I follow the intention to deliver a full biography of A.Menzel, of which there already have been published a lot of encompassing ones and many will as well in future times.
I was lead to write down the below-mentioned to pass down some interesting episodes from his starting time to the posterity to redound to the characterization of his originality, there's relatively little reported from those days, as well as to adjust some exaggerations and falsehoods.
What I am writing down here shall above all be given truthful, with no frills and without own additions, only through this my notes might presumably be of a special interest.
In the Winter of 1833/34 my father met for the first time together with Adolph Menzel during an evening drawing after nature, which was organized by several Berlin artists. He pretty soon recognized him as a very talented and most ingenious young man, who gained his whole interest. After he had inquired on his financial circumstances he found out that they were of the utmost modesty.
(…here follows a short description of Menzel who's father had passed away and left him caring for the daily bread for his mother and two siblings)...)
My father then invited Menzel to visit him and to advice him with words and deeds and as well to introduce him to influential persons who might be of use to him. At that time we were living at Monbijouplatz 10 I., where father used to have a big factory for wallpapers.
At our home it was always an agile and sociably coming and going which, as I presume, attracted Menzel very much and he thus became a common and always welcomed visitor.
Especially on sundays, in the evening, when many of the then best artists and other important persons as Eduard Magnus, Schinkel, Rauch, sculptor Drake, Eduard Meyerheim, Prof. Hotho, General von Radowitz and others would gather, where then a lot of music was played and the mood was bright and harmless. In this circle Menzel was now introduced and could make new connections and acquaintances. My father did as well have a rich collection of drawings, copper engravings and etchings, among others drawings of the Russian painter von Reutern, which Menzel could study now – and of which he did many a copy. -
My father induced Menzel, who had only been drawing up to that point, to study oil painting and taught him the first handling of the technique, for he had studied two years in Paris under David and was pretty skilled himself. Menzel copied now as a start the self-portrait of Frans Hals, a broadly painted and because of that greatly suited picture, which agonised Menzel very much and it became very hard for him to stick with it. He was painting in a backroom of our living room, which was set up for him to paint, but whenever it was possible he preferred to talk to my mother or my sisters. (…Arnold describes how he once got blue (Prussian blue) paint in his beard, didn’t get it off and because of that had to shave his beard off and didn’t come painting for over two weeks, after that Menzel firstly was shagged off from oil painting and then pretty caught up with his commissions on Goethe’s “Künstlers Erdenwallen”, the “five senses” and others...)
Although the situation of Menzel had much improved within three years he still had to strive hard and had to work long till in the early morning hours. Now a sudden change took place that my father had to settle to Kassel to take over the wallpaper factory of my Grandfather, a turn that Menzel very much regretted, as his letters vitally described. He was dedicating a beautifully and deeply sensed inked drawing to us, depicting the lamenting Berolina, sitting on a Lotosflower, surrounded by singing children and a choir while angels are sending cloudbursts from heaven’s gates.
Now there’s a longer gap to my memories. I remember that my father had a vivid written correspondence with Menzel* but as a child of seven years I didn’t give too much attention to it.
I remember the great joy we had when two pictures arrived from Berlin which were Adolph Menzel, painted by Magnus, and Magnus drawn by Menzel, both as whole figures in a small format.

the painter Eduard Magnus drawn by Adolph Menzel (1841)
the young Adolph Menzel painted by Eduard Magnus (1841)

As a joyous surprise Menzel came in 1841 to visit us in Kassel which he didn’t know up to that point. Because I then was a boy of twelve years I was able to show him the surrounding and all sights of the town. The beautiful Wilhelmshöh with the Habichts-forest, where we watched wild game in the evenings, then we did make wanderings to Wilhelmsthal, an excellently conserved little castle from the rococo, which fascinated him overly. The greatest attraction of course was the Kassel painting gallery.
During this time he did some portrait drawings in pencil. Unfortunately he couldn't extend his staying with us over a span of several weeks, for in Berlin there were already new commissions and projects waiting for him, above all the famous work on Frederic II with the text by Franz Kugler. (…)
In the year of 1843 my sister visited family Menzel, on this occasion the outstanding portrait of her came into being, a lifesized Kniestück

At the same time I started to deal with painting for myself and thus Menzel dedicated more time towards me and my progress.
We had to send him a lot of studies and works by me, until he proposed to my father in 1846 to send me to him to Berlin, where I then stayed for three months and had to work diligently. He praised very little and was very hard in his criticism. We worked till late at night and thus I was oftimes close to starving and was wishing with great desire for supper. But when his sister, while she was calling us repeatedly to come to table, was standing in an interesting lightsituation there was firstly made a study after her, which again took a longer while.

This intensive working time was all of a sudden interrupted by the abrupt illness of Menzel's mother, followed after a short time by her death. Menzel was connected to his mother in deepest love and admiration and this stroke of fate got very hard on him.

In these sad days of course I couldn't stay with the Menzel's and was heartily accommodated at Professor Fritz Drake's place. To deflect them from those sad moods a bit I was quartered back after eight days, where then after a while and bit by bit a more quiet and somewhat bright atmosphere came into being. In this time of my staying with him Menzel was without intermission working on the illustrations of the works of Frederic II and the illustrations of his army. Although he did work hard during the whole day it didn't bother him to stay up late and read throughout half of the night.
One time he found a long expected book on Frederic the Great waiting for him in which he deepened so much that he didn't take off his hat and Paletot, reading until the morning dawned. 
 He came into the sleeping room when I woke up in the morning. On Christmas I returned home. 
The oilpainting “Die Störung” was exhibited for the first time ((at the) Academy). 
Adolph Menzel, "the disturbance"

To study the candle light accurately he had constructed a tiny parlour with a small piano and two little lights and as well a tiny dressed puppet. He already begun the painting in 1843, on the first sketch a young lady is walking up and down in the room, later he changed his idea into an unexpected visit in the background. (…)

*the main body of Menzel’s letters from the 1830’s/40’s is between Arnold and Menzel.


  1. Thank you for translating this important first-hand account, Christian. It's fascinating to see Menzel's early progress up close. He was figuring out how to paint in his own way, and his originality and mastery issued from his independence.