Adolph von Menzel (German, 1815-1906)
THE BALCONY ROOM
Signed with initials and dated lower right: A.M. --45
Oil on canvas, 58 x 48 cm
Berlin, Alte Nationalgalerie
I WANT TO BE ALONE
Do you ever feel this way? When you go to your room, do you play, paint, read, make music, or call your friends (remember that you are not allowed screen time during the week!)? Does this room resemble yours? Do you step onto the balcony to see what lies beneath: a bustling city or the quiet countryside? Is it spring, summer, fall or winter? Is no one allowed to look in or are the curtains drawn to keep out the sun? Can you feel the curtains blowing in the wind?
Who lives in this room, a boy, or girl, man or woman or a couple?
You are looking at the Menzel’s own room in Berlin. The artist is 30 years old and lives with his mother and his sister. Is his room fancy and colorful, cluttered or tidy? Are the walls covered with shimmering silks? Can you see some paint patches? What is reflected in the mirror? Would you move the furniture about or leave it just so? Did someone ask Menzel to paint this picture? He makes this little picture for himself and keeps The Balcony Room for the rest of his life.
Berlin, 1845: meet Adolph Menzel, one of the most talented artists of his era. He never stops working and he uses both of his hands to draw, he is ambidextrous. When one hand gets tired the other takes over. Is this picture done with his left or his right hand? Zoom in on the brushwork; perhaps he used both hands. When Menzel walks about the busy metropolis of 400,000 Berliners, he quickly sketches what strikes his fancy. He has special pockets made in his coat where he keeps his sketchbooks and pencils. He later uses these drawings to paint royalty at concerts, workers sweating in an iron rolling mill, beer gardens, his sister asleep and empty rooms. If you like slightly spooky pictures look at:
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Menzel,_Adolph_von_-_The_Studio_Wall_-_1872.jpg (Kunsthalle Hamburg)
Do you often check to see how much you have grown? Menzel stopped growing and measured about 140 cm, the average height of a ten-year-old boy. Now imagine an unusually large head on top of that slight body. Do you think it was easy to be physically different in those days? Menzel had extraordinary powers of observation and the ability to transform what he saw into marvelous pictures. He did not mingle much with people; he preferred to sketch them quickly. This way he needn't speak to them.
Menzel was mostly a Realist. He painted history pictures, but in The Balcony Room his style is Pre-impressionist. Why? The brush strokes are free and easy and he depicts a fleeting moment or impression. Twenty-seven years after The Balcony Room, Impressionism kicked off in France with Claude Monet's Impression, Sunrise, 1872, (Musée Marmottan, Paris). Was Menzel ahead of his time when he made this fresh little picture? He became very popular during his lifetime. At Menzel’s state funeral the emperor himself walked behind his little coffin!