Walter and Vera Eberstadt’s collection reflects both their deep love of art, ranging from Old Master Paintings to modern sculpture, and the legacy of their forebears. Walter Eberstadt’s maternal grandfather Ernst Flersheim (1862-1944), and his brother Martin (1856-1935), were active patrons of, and donors to, the Frankfurter Kunstverein and the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, and their significant collections included works by Monet, Corinth, Munch and Liebermann. Both were victims of Nazi persecution and their art collections were expropriated from them by the regime, with over 70 works remaining lost to Martin’s heirs.
This group of nine drawings, including six by Adolph Menzel, come by descent from Vera Eberstadt’s paternal grandfather Moritz Edler von Kuffner (1854-1939), brewing entrepreneur and leading property developer in fin-de-siècle Vienna. A patron of both the arts and sciences, he was a founding member of the Wiener Musikverein and built a famous astronomical observatory on land near his Ottakringer Brewery on the outskirts of Vienna. Kuffner was also a keen mountaineer, forging new routes up many mountains including the Kuffner Pillar on the Piz Palü and the Kuffner Ridge on Mont Maudit (both named in his honour).
His tastes in art were broad, and his collection ranged from large antique Roman statues, manuscripts by Mozart and Martin Luther, and a fine collection of drawings by Adolph Menzel, noted in Hans Tietze’s 1908 survey on notable Viennese collections. Following the Anschluss in 1938, 84-year-old Moritz von Kuffner’s world changed forever. His son Ignaz, Vera Eberstadt’s father, died at 46, and one of his surviving twin sons, Stephan von Kuffner, was forced to sell the Ottakringer Brewery at a fraction of its real value. Moritz von Kuffner’s art collection attracted the attention of a number of art curators in Nazi Austria. Dr. Otto Benesch of the Albertina earmarked 13 drawings by Menzel from the Kuffner collection for acquisition, however in July 1938 all were returned to Stephan von Kuffner except one, The Farmer’s Wife (Kopf einer Bäuerin), which remains in the Albertina today (inventory number 28041).
With their extraordinary visual presence, the six drawings by Menzel from Kuffner’s collection, dated 1888-1892, bear witness to the artist’s adoption of graphite and stump as his most important tools in his latter years, after abandoning urban life subjects in oils in the mid-1880s. Only one of the drawings has clearly been identified with a fuller composition, and Menzel appears to have executed the other intensely observed studies for their own sake. As Dr Marie Ursula Riemann-Reyher has observed, ‘A great admirer of the etchings of Rembrandt, the ‘only one’ for whom he had real admiration, Menzel ultimately returned to his pencil drawings, perhaps in the knowledge that it was in this medium that he would leave his most important legacy’ (Adolph Menzel: Between Romanticism and Impressionism, exh. cat., 1996, p. 130).