Sonntag, 31. Januar 2016

Memories on Adolph Menzel - Carl Johann Arnold, part II

Second part of my translations of Menzel's student Carl Johann Arnold:

Memories of Carl Johann Arnold Part II:

In the next year, in 1847, it became possible for my father as chairman of the hessian Kunstverein* (*ChSch "Since the beginning of the 19th century, Kunstvereine (member based art societies with exhibitions spaces) are the most important institutions for the production, exhibition and communication of contemporary art in Germany. Today there are over 250 Kunstvereine, some of them being big exhibition spaces…" ) to obtain a bigger comission for Menzel. 
One expected to bring a big oil painting to it's execution and Menzel chose a preliminary sketch of the „Meeting of Gustav Adolf and his wife“ as a theme.

Adolph Menzel, oil study "the Meeting of Gustav Adolf and his wife“

Because the disposable money wasn't enough for a huge oilpainting and furthermore a subject from the hessian history was preferred, one eventually agreed in comissioning Menzel with a Karton („cartoon“) with lifesized figures ,which should show the entering of Sophie von Brabant with her little son in Marburg. 
On a sidenote: Menzel did buy it back later again from the Kunstverein.
The price was set to 800 Taler. Menzel agreed and arrived with a lot of prestudies in August at our place in Kassel. My father had made arrangements before his arrival, and had allready reserved a big room within our house at Wilhelmshöher Platz 4 and brought a canvas about to be stretched along the complete long side of the room.

drawing by C.J. Arnold: Menzel, working on the Kassel Karton

Before the work should begin there had to be studies been made of the territory in Marburg as well as the characteristic shwalmian(?*) (*ChSch: in German it's „schwälmisch“- a local kind of people in Hessen, here as an attribute – couldn't find a proper translation) type of peasants.

Adolph Menzel, study of a hessian peasant, 1847

 I was very delighted that Menzel took me with him, where I had to busily study with him. Above all he was fascinated by the magnificent building of the Elisabethkirche, after which he did, during very high temperatures, a drawing. Then it was the turn to draw the inside, the many grand woodcarvings, funerary monuments, sculptures, eventually the archive, to make it short, the few days that were reserved for our stay just flew by and it had to be thought about our return journey, as reluctantly as it was.

the Elisabethkirche, 1847

Statues of Elisabethkirche, 1847

Statues of Elisabethkirche, 1847

After returning to Kassel Menzel began immediately to execute the work. All necessairy costumes were gathered , as well as modells, as which the three of us siblings often had to assist as well. To not tire too much on the huge painting he also did other works inbetween and painted several portraits in pastells and oils. Thus the portrait of my father under lamplights in oils, then mine, the portraits of my two sisters and the french legation councilor v. Rothan came into being.

drawing by C.J. Arnold,: Menzel working on the portrait of Carl Heinrich Arnold

Portrait of Carl Heinrich Arnold, oil, 1847

Portrait of Carl Johann Arnold, pastells, 1847
Portrait of Caroline Arnold, pastells, 1847
Portrait of Friederike "Frtitzchen" Arnold, pastells, 1847

Because I took riding lessons during that time I had to pose for the riders in the picture and executed the several poses at the riding school. In the evenings we often went to the theatre and visited concerts. As well in our family music was played a lot, and here Menzel got to know the famous composer Louis Spohr, who delighted him through his ingenious playing on the violin. Through these muscial evenings he was inspired to create several ink drawings. Because of all these works inbetween and manyfold socialities the completion of the Karton was strongly affected, thus the initially planned eight weeks turned into the same amount of months so that Menzel had to extend his stay with us from the beginning of August 1847 till the end of March 1848, before the painting was finished. Out of this he wrote underneath a drawing that he did for my sister for Christmas: „by Menzel, who is still around“. Because I shared the room with him it also happened that I saw Menzel, when I woke up suddenly, in front of me, while he was drawing after me saying: „You just woke up five minutes too early!“
Oftentimes I watched that he quickly noted a special lighting or movement, no matter how late it allready was. Menzel was overly anxious about fire and lights and he always did walk through his room and the atelier in the dark, he examined as well the sleeping room elaborately, watching underneath the bed wether somebody was hiding there, which became a second nature to him; so much that he even lifted up clothes and towels that lay on the ground. Such a process of controlling took him quite a while during which he presumably must have been thinking on totally different things but I forcefully had to surpress myself to not burst out into loud laughter which he surely would have taken amiss. On the other hand he often responded to jokes , and thus he once drew himself into my sketchbook with him pulling faces.
As evidence for his enormous certainty in drawing it might be mentioned that he cut out lifesized heads out of paper without drawing a single stroke which then worked perfectly as silhouettes.
A painter, Professor Grimm, had finished a huge oilpainting, the „Mohrentaufe*“ (CHSCH.: * „Mohr“ - an oldfashioned word for a dark skinned african, although it originally does not have a negative meaning the notion itself is today associated with the times of colonialism and thus out of use. „Die Mohrentaufe“ means „the christening of the black african man“) and asked Menzel for his opinion. He took me with him and we stood very long in front of the painting, without Menzel saying a word. Then he suddenly asked who'd painted the oilstudy of a head that hung at a wall nearby. Grimm replied that he had painted it in Rome – Menzel then: „Please listen: The thing is excellent!“ and made his excuses without a comment on the painting.
The Karton eventually was completed and was enthusiastically accepted by the Kunstverein, the price of course wasn't in relation to the efforts so that he asked the board of directors for extra payment. My father obtained to Menzel's great joy another 400 Taler. Thus this comission found a satisfying balancing for all sides. 

the completed Kassel Karton

Menzel now returned to Berlin at the end of March, arriving during the last days of the revolution, which he depicted elaborately to my father within an eight pages long letter.
After that stormy and moving time Menzel came to rest again to start thinking on the execution of his bigger works on the life of Frederic II.
After I had studied for two years in Antwerp I came on Menzel's advice and wish at the beginning of 1853 to Berlin, to live and work together with him.

drawing by C.J. Arnold, Menzel his brother Richard and his sister Emilie in Berlin

I found him busy with a huge painting, „the battle at Hochkirch“, at the same time he worked on a commission for Ravené, a painting where Frederic II is examining a new built house and is welcomed by a family, a famous painting* (*ChSch: both were lost in WW II, in the special exhibition in the alte Nationalgalerie they show them as orginalsized b/w prints). 
Because of his very own character the working process was pretty much prolonged. When he found the modells he'd comissioned to pose for his painting in the early morning in an interesting lighting or pose he would firstly do studies or quick notes after them. It is true that Menzel did require great endeavours from his modells, often till total exhaustion, but at the same time he was very grateful. He once had a soldier sitting on a wooden modell of a horse, all of a sudden the man fainted and slided from the back of the horse to the ground, but before he did run after a glass of water Menzel quickly noted with a few strokes the (fallen) position of the soldier. Those and comparable situations might have been the origin of many exaggerated stories.
drawing by C.J.Arnold, Menzel studying a modell
Because Menzel did never leave a chance out to collect interesting studies and impressions it happened that he, as he wanted to take a footbath, painted a lifesized study of his foot and thus forgot the original purpose. (…)

a later oil sketch of Menzel's foot from 1876

In his younger years Menzel was often distressed by spasmodical blackouts, which he also mentions in a letter to father from 1836* (*ChSch: I wonder wether Menzel suffered from epilepsy, but I didn't find that mentioned in his biographies nor wether his medically decreed cure in 1861 in Bad Freienwalde has to do with increased attacks of that very phenomenon) Even later, as I witnessed it myself, such attacks occurred ore often, especially after mistakes in his diet.If possible he dissimulated them to not unsettle his siblings. One day he had to be carried home from the streets, around the corner of Jerusalemer Straße, which terrified his family members. In later years, when he had wassailed bravely under given circumstances of festivities he stayed luckily unoffended by this phenomenon. (…)

the original drawings of Menzel by Carl Johann Arnold are to be seen in the special exhibition "I Menzel" at the märkisches Museum in Berlin

the Portrait of Carl Heinrich Arnold, Menzel's sutdy of his foot as well as another oil sketch that shows Carl Johann Arnold drawing at Menzel's home can be seen in the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin


  1. Der Kommentar wurde von einem Blog-Administrator entfernt.

  2. Thank you for translating these illuminating first-hand observations of Menzel at work.