The German painter Adolph Menzel (1815–1905) was an artist of a broad range of subject-matter and artistic expression. The official genre in his work is represented by history painting that earned him the most renown. In it, he focused on scenes from German, particularly Prussian history and on contemporary events that led to the unification of Germany in 1871. Owing to Menzel’s endeavours in this field, towards the end of his life he was knighted (1898) and his name often appears in the form “Adolph von Menzel“. Menzel was a contemporary of the French Realists, and his work and life suggest that he followed the current artistic trends in France that forged a path to modern art.
High Art themes constituted only a part of Menzel’s extensive output. The painter also took an intensive interest in the everyday life of different strata of society, which he conveyed mostly through drawings and prints, presented in the Graphic Art Cabinet. His work on paper occupied an important place in his oeuvre because as the son of an owner of a lithographic workshop he had engaged in graphic art since his early youth and later became a sought-after illustrator. A specific category of Menzel’s output comprises works of a caricatural and comic nature, documented by drawings accompanying the artist’s personal correspondence. This type of artistic expression attests that many of the artists whose work had earned them high esteem and widespread respect already during their lifetime did not lose the ability and need of self-irony and self-perception even in “non-serious” contexts.