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Adolph von Menzel

(1815–1905, Berlin)

Study Sheet with Two Elegant Young Women, a Head Study and the Study of a Hand. Pencil drawing and stumping. 20.9 x 12.9 cm. Monogrammed and dated: A. M. 92, with a dedication in the artist’s own hand: „Herrn Rummel zur Erinnerung 96“.

This charming and brilliant study sheet, which belongs to the artist’s late work, shows Menzel at the top of his form. Although half-length figure study drawings in various poses appear frequently in the 1890s, they usually show older people.

The present drawing probably came about in connection with the preliminary studies for the Kissinger gouaches. These were genre-like, multi-figure portrayals of the local promenade and the hostelries catering to day-trippers (1890–93, Tschudi 673, 674 and 676), yet it was not used for any of these compositions. It belonged to the “stock” of pictorial inventions that Menzel collected with an almost manic creative urge. What may have appealed to him in the present subject is the interplay between the differently treated textures of the fashionable, feminine clothing and the freshness of the soft, youthful flesh tints. The starkly reductive, though artistically wholly convincing rendering of the coquettish, richly decorated little hats is a triumph of draughtsmanship. Using finely graded variations in the pencil line and subtle wipe effects, Menzel creates an intense sense of texture and trueness to life. The play of the soft light on the young women’s faces is rendered with subtlety and sensitivity. Gossamer-thin lines are used to outline their faces with perfect accuracy. Individual details, such as the ringlets, the pleat in the nape of the neck and the delicate auricles, have been treated with a grainier line of varying thickness, giving rise to the softest of transitions.

It is likely that these are ordinary women whom Menzel is showing us here – the girl at the top left has had her portrait made en face and is gazing at us with dreamy doll’s eyes – yet he has managed to endow these anonymous beings with grace, charm and a certain immortality.

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