Thursday, 13 June 2013

Totally Menzel

Adolph Menzel (1815-1905) was one of the best known artists in 19th century Germany, hugely popular in his country for his patriotic propaganda paintings. These don't look very interesting to the eyes a contemporary viewer but a brief trawl through his catalogue reveals another quite different set of works.

Rather than the grandiose history paintings, these are small scale works, still lives and interiors with a gnomic meditative quality. The simple subjects carry no political baggage or obvious message, and allow the viewer to find their own meaning within the ambiguity, or not as the case may be.

Unmade Bed, 1845
The drawing Unmade Bed could be an illustration for M.R.James' Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad with the contorted sheets about to animate "a face of crumpled linen."

Still Life with Small Penis and Skeleton - sex and death, a classic combination

Studio Wall
The paintings of dimly lit anatomical plaster casts and wax moulds hanging on his studio walls recall one of my favourite scenes from Bergman's Fanny and Alexander, the interior of their Jewish rescuer Isak Jacobi's house with it's walls covered in puppets, weird ephemera and uncertain shapes. The rooms are lit by feeble oil lamps, a ghostly light which encourages the tired evening mind to sense unease among the body parts and dark shadows.

Studio Wall, 1872 (more sex and death?)

Rat in the Gutter

Partial Self-Portrait as an Amish

Dead Soldiers
He did venture beyond Berlin on occasional artistic assignments, some of which were to document the destruction of the Franco-Prussian War, which he did with a forensic eye and an attention to gruesome detail to rival Goya's Disasters of War.

More Dead Soldiers

Dead General
Menzel was an odd fellow, sociable but detached from his peers. He never married. His outsider status may have been due to the fact that he was only 4 feet 6 inches tall with a larger than average size head. Gnomic and gnomish - I like that.

1 comment:

  1. Well, a little googling reveals some rather, shall we say, stirring big works as well as a funny looking small chap. But the overriding impression is of that VERY small penis and a (?) skeleton(?). WTF?