Though I had seen a few reproductions of his work in books, I first really took notice of German artist Adolph Menzel quite a few years ago, when I encountered some of his original drawings in shows of 19th century master drawings at the Morgan Library in New York and the National Gallery in D.C.
Even amid drawings by the likes of Ingres and Degas, I found Menzel’s drawings compelling. There is a kind power in his drawings that comes from honest, direct observation, and the artist’s intention to unflinchingly study and understand what is before him. In this respect (though not particularly in style or execution), Menzel’s drawings remind me of Rembrandt’s clear, economical observations of the streets, people and landscapes in his immediate surroundings.
Menzel quickly went onto my list of favorites, a position that has been solidified in recent years as I’ve become more fascinated with gouache, a medium of which Menzel was a master.
I quickly found that books on Menzel were far too rare and difficult to find — an unfortunate state that persists to this day — which is why I was delighted to receive a review copy of a new book, Adolph Menzel: Drawings and Paintings, co-edited by Christian Schlierkamp and the indefatigable James Gurney, who also contributed the introduction and the selection of the images.
The book is nicely balanced between showcasing Menzel’s too rarely seen drawings, and 32 color plates of both drawings in color and his gouache paintings. The latter include a wonderful selection of images of his paintings for The Festival of the White Rose, a set in which he rendered not only detailed scenes of the events, but set them in intricate trompe l’oeil frames — all painted in gouache.
The book also includes a selection of Menzel’s etchings. All are presented in a 116 page volume from Dover Books. This volume continues their line of high-quality art books presented at remarkably reasonable prices, in this case, $27.95 USD.
Like most of Gurney’s books and videos, this one is augmented by posts on Gurney’s website; to date, one on Menzel’s technique, his use of photography, Menzel the Sketcher and his philosophy of drawing everything. There are also older posts on Menzel, not directly related to the book. I would not be surprised if additional posts are added at some point.
Menzel’s studies, sketches, finished drawings and gouache paintings are both a visual treat and a valuable source of study for artists. Menzel drew incessantly and took whatever was around him as his subjects.
Adolph Menzel’s drawings are a prime example of an artist’s devotion to drawing as a tool, craft, art and source of understanding and inspiration. His beautiful gouache pantings are a testament to that devotion as a source for richly realized finished works. Adolph Menzel: Drawings and Paintings provides a valuable showcase for both.
For those unfamiliar with Menzel’s work, the book is a terrific introduction, particularly because of the emphasis on his brilliant drawings. For those like myself who are already admirers of Menzel, the volume is a long overdue treat.