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19th Century Art


Adolph Menzel

Wrocław 1815 – 1905 Berlin

Early morning on the night express train. 1877

Brush and pen and India ink as well as pencil, heightened with opaque white on light cardboard, laid down on blue, light cardboard. 26,2 × 34,4 cm. (10 ⅜ × 13 ½ in.) Signed, inscribed and dated upper left: Ad: Menzel Berl: 1877.  [3266]

ProvenanceAdolph Thiem, Berlin ( acquired from the artist on the 5.11.1878) / Albert Wolff, Paris (at the latest 1885 until 1891) / Kunst- und Verlagshandlung R. Wagner, Berlin (owner: Hermann Paechter, Berlin; spätestens 1895, bis 1902) / Galerie Heinemann, München (no. 6851: Im Eisenbahn-Coupé, 22 x 35 cm; acquired on the 15.12.1903) (?) / Edgar Hanfstaengl sen., Munich (acquired on the 7.1.1904 from Heinemann) (?) / Private Collection, Southern Germany (late. 1970, thence by descent to the present owner)

EUR 80.000 – 120.000
USD 95,200 – 143,000

Sold for:
206,250 EUR (incl. premium)

Morgens früh im Nachtschnellzug

Auction 328Wednesday, 9 June 2021
03:00 PM

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A loan request has been placed on the drawing from the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nantes for the exhibition "Le voyage en train / The train journey [working title]" (fall 2022).

ExhibitionExposition des Œuvres de Adolphe Menzel. Paris, Pavillon de la Ville, Jardin des Tuileries, 1885, cat. no. 221 („Cinq minutes d'arrêt“)

Literature and IllustrationBerlin Artists Association (ed.): Bausteine. Lose Blätter aus den Mappen Berliner Künstler. Zum Besten des Bestandes für Erbauung eines Künstlerhauses. First vol. Berlin, 1877 (there titled by the artist: „Morgens früh“) / F.-G. Dumas: Adolphe Menzel. Paris, Galerie des Artistes Modernes, 1885, ill. 97 („Cinq minutes d‘arrêt“) / Adolf Rosenberg: Geschichte der modernen Kunst. Third vol.: Die deutsche Kunst. Second part: 1849–1889. Leipzig, 1889, p. 208 / Max Jordan and Robert Dohme: Das Werk Adolph Menzels. Ed. authorised by the artist. 3 volumes. Munich, 1890-1905, here part 1 (1890), p. 96 / Max Jordan: The Work of Adolph Menzel. A commemorative publication on the occasion of the artist's eightieth birthday. Munich, 1895, p. 70 / H(ermann) Knackfuß: Menzel. Bielefeld and Leipzig, 1895 (= Artists' Monographs, ed. by H. Knackfuß, vol. VII), p. 80, ill. 86, and p. 100-101; 7th ed., 1906, p. 82, ill. 86, and p. 102; 10th ed., 1922, p. 91, ill. 102, and p. 113 / Franz H. Meissner: Adolph von Menzel. Berlin/Leipzig, 2. Tausend 1902 (= The Artist's Book, Vol. VIII), p. 82 / Max Jordan: Das Werk Adolph Menzels, 1815–1890. Munich, 1905, p. 96 / Paul Meyerheim: Adolph von Menzel. Erinnerungen. Berlin, 1906, p. 67-69 / E. W. Bredt: Adolph Menzel. Wanderbuch. München, 1920, ill. p. 53 („Fünf Minuten Aufenthalt“) / Elfried Bock: Adolph Menzel. Index of his graphic work. Berlin, 1923, p. 546, no. A 1185 (a photogravure after the drawing "Mechanical reproductions") / Harm-Hinrich Brandt: Zug der Zeit – Zeit der Züge. Deutsche Eisenbahn 1835–1985. 2 volumes. Berlin, 1985, hier vol. 2, p. 419 / exh. cat.: Von Caspar David Friedrich bis Adolph Menzel. Aquarelle und Zeichnungen der Romantik. From the Nationalgalerie Berlin/DDR. Wien, Kunstforum Länderbank, 1990, exh. no. 146 (mentioned, not exhibited) / Gisold Lammel (ed.): Exzellenz lassen bitten. Erinnerungen an Adolph Menzel. Leipzig, 1992, p. 189-190, ill. p. 188 / Gisold Lammel: Adolph Menzel. Bildwelt und Bildregie. Dresden/Basel, 1993, p. 185, ill. / Gisold Lammel: Adolph Menzel und seine Kreise. Dresden/Basel, 1993, p. 163 / exh. cat.: Adolph Menzel, 1815–1905. Das Labyrinth der Wirklichkeit. Paris, Musée d‘Orsay; Washington, National Gallery of Art, and Berlin, Nationalgalerie and Kupferstichkabinett, 1996/97, cat. no. 87 (mentioned, not exhibited) / Claude Keisch and Marie Ursula Riemann-Reyher: Adolph Menzel. Briefe. 4 vols. Berlin/München, 2009 (= Sources on German Art History from Classicism to the Present, Vol. 6), here vol. 3, Brief 1103, p. 922-923, here p. 923 (an F. Bruckmann, 21.11.1881) / exh. cat.: Blinde Blicke. Sehen und Nicht-Sehen bei Adolph Menzel. Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett, in the Old National Gallery, 2015/16, p. 53, note. 18 (mentioned, not exhibited)

It will be hard to find another such an expansive boor in German art until we get to George Grosz. Though shown from the back, this uncouth figure, possibly a rustic landowning squire, seems oppressively close: A giant, probably loud yawn accompanied by lots of stretching, looking all the more crass with the strident triad of unruly hair, unkempt moustache, and pocket bulging with crumpled-up contents. Around him, the crushed sundries of everyday life lie heedlessly scattered, filling out the scene: a nightmare in Menzel's art. Behind the early riser, a reclining matron turns her face away – a companion from his household or just a random fellow-traveler? The morning chill floods in as a crotchety coffee waiter opens the door (each compartment of the corridor-less train has its own entrance). This causes the young woman to lift her head up tentatively from her protective pile of blankets and pillows. We cannot help but feel sorry for her, as we see her ignoring her spouse the same way he is ignoring her.

Long-distance travel by rail, a potent symbol of modern life and the sobering polar opposite of the “Romantic nature hike” is a motif that recurs in Menzel‘s oeuvre over the span of decades. The composition presented here bears a particular kinship with the pastel painting “Nach durchfahrener Nacht ” (After a Night’s Journey, 1851; Grisebach, Auction 112, Lot 8; now held by the Art Institute of Chicago), and even more so with the gouache “Auf der Fahrt durch schöne Natur” (Travelling Through Beautiful Nature) (1892, private collection), which escalates a very similar scene into a hectic concatenation of comical disasters.

Menzel is the master of the unabashed gaze. No embarrassing situation is alien to him. His curiosity impels him to look at things that would probably offend most people’s sensibilities, and to set them on the stage of art. Even in the midst of desolation, he finds material for intriguing studies of life. “Interesting, instructive, even difficult” is how he defined his subject matter’s gradations of intensity (in a letter to Otto Greiner dated 6 February 1890). As in a tryptic, the scene is vertically divided into three sections: the man, the woman, the waiter in the doorway. At first glance, the fine grey tones seem nothing more than carefully made ink daubing; on closer inspection, however, they turn out to consist of an unorthodox mixture of materials: The wash has been applied over rubbed-in graphite with the use of surprisingly dense, stippled penwork to characterize materiality. To this, opaque white has been added, while everything remains, however, within the bounds of grey.

Although the aesthetics of the grisaille look, which Menzel used repeatedly in the 1870s, was centuries older, it was immediately adopted in the 19th century for purposes of photographic reproduction. Thus, Menzel also painted a number of other grey-on-grey scenes in oil, gouache or ink specifically “for purposes of photography” or for reproduction through woodcut printing in several layers to reflect differences in shading. This was the case for the artist’s cycles of illustrations for Kleist’s play “Der Zerbrochene Krug“ (The Broken Jug), which dates from the same year as our composition and uses the same mixed technique. The luxury edition of the cycle even included four of the plates as photographic reproductions (which were replaced by wood engravings only in later editions). The only work of Menzel’s which is not known to have served this purpose is “Austernesser“ (The Oyster Eater) (1879; Grisebach, Auction 278, Lot 208). But “Early Morning …”– this being the work's oldest title – appeared as a photo-engraving in an album published by the Verein Berliner Künstler (Berlin Artists‘ Association) “featuring the best works in inventory earmarked for the construction of an artists’ centre.” This intended usage also explains the opaque-white corrections, which are no longer recognizable as such in the reproduction.

How surprising then, to run across the following, purportedly “eyewitness” account in the highly informative “Menzel-Erinnerungen “ (Menzel Recollections) compiled by the artist’s painter friend Paul Meyerheim: During a summer stay in Kissingen, Menzel supposedly had come across an old “hastily made chalk drawing” of his at an art dealer’s shop, one that he now regarded as “humiliatingly bad;” he requested that it be turned over to him for a reworking and, after “many days” returned it as a “wonderful gouache picture” without asking any money in return. Meyerheim goes on to describe our composition in detail - which, however, was not painted in gouache colors over chalk, and of which we also know, thanks to Menzel's carefully maintained book of accounts, that it could not have been returned to its original owner, since it was available to the reproduction workshop in the very year of its creation and was acquired soon after that by the Banker Adolph Thiem. So how reliable is this anecdotal evidence, and how can we separate hearsay from historical fact? A likely explanation is that Meyerheim had often watched his friend, who was increasingly plagued with self-doubt in his old age, radically overhauling some of his older works. So while the anecdote does indeed underscore a general truth, it seems to illustrate its point with the wrong work.

Claude Keisch

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