Though unquestionably a fine painter and accomplished pastellist, history has, quite rightly, most favourably remembered Menzel for his mesmeric work as a draughtsman, the standard of which was, during the course of his lifetime, surpassed by no-one.
This deeply atmospheric sheet, which Dr Ursula Riemann-Reyher has suggested depicts a church in Brunswick, was, it seems, executed during Menzel's visit to the city in 1853 and, as a landscape drawing, is a rarity within the artist’s drawn oeuvre, which predominantly consists of highly accomplished and characterful head and figure studies (see lot 106).
In this drawing Menzel depicts a somewhat ramshackle farmhouse, sitting in the metaphorical shadow of the local church, whose spire towers above the dilapidated building in the foreground to such an extent that it cannot be contained in its entirety within the border of the sheet. The artist couples bold, crisp strokes in charcoal with the liberal but emphatic and distinctive use of stumping, a technique that really came to define Menzel as a draughtsman later in his career but which, even at this relatively early stage, acts as a signature for the artist, so utterly characteristic is it of his work. Indeed whilst many of Menzel’s drawings use stumping to such an extent that very little, if any, of the sheet is left untouched, the present work by contrast shows the artist’s ability and confidence to use the underlying white of the paper, to serve as a luminous contrast to the shadowy midtones located in the canopy of the tree and the bold, dark strokes found in the loft of the farmhouse and church tower.
Within this context, the rarity of Menzel’s landscape drawings cannot be overstated and although the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin, houses a rich collection, including such works as Katholische Pfarrkirche St. Martin in Jauer von Nordosten1 and the masterful The Schafgraben Flooded,2 when one looks for comparable drawings that have been on the European art market in the last decade only the artist’s On the Mountainside3 and Stadtansicht, Hinterhof in Berlin,4 can be justly compared to the present work.
1. Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett, inv. no. SZ Menzel N 1134
2. See P. Betthausen et al, Adolph Menzel 1815-1905: Master Drawings from East Berlin, exhib. cat., New York, The Frick Collection et al., 1990-1991, p. 59, no. 2, p. 57, reproduced
3. Sale, Berlin, Grisebach, 1 June 2016, lot 208 (112,500 EUR)
4. Sale, Bern, Galerie Kornfeld, 6 June 2008, lot 23 (130,000 CHF)
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