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Adolph Menzel was a 19th-century pioneer of German realism. His paintings, drawings, and prints capture reality with remarkable truth and atmosphere. In this episode, art historian Werner Busch discusses why there has been so little published about this important artist in English. He also examines the biographical and historical events that shaped Menzel’s work and the course it took. Busch is former professor of art history at Freie Universität Berlin and author of Adolph Menzel: The Quest for Reality (Getty Publications, 2017).

Cover for Adolph Menzel: The Quest for Reality featuring painting of people and trees

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Adolph Menzel in the Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum


JIM CUNO:  Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.

WERNER BUSCH:  He was famous, and he didn’t like it. He was harsh to the people, and he was—well, he was a lonely person.

CUNO:  In this episode I speak with art historian Werner Busch about his recent book Adolph Menzel: The Quest for Reality.

Adolph Menzel was one of the greatest painters of the 19th century. Sadly, few people outside Germany know this. Menzel had the misfortune of not being a French painter during a period when French painting dominated both public and private taste. He was born in the era of Jacques-Louis David, came of age in the time of Delacroix and Courbet, and rose to prominence in German painting when Manet, Renoir, Degas, Monet, and Cezanne dominated the rest of the Western artistic canon.

In his recent book, Adolph Menzel: A Quest for Reality, author Werner Busch explores Menzel’s life and work, beginning with the origins of the artist’s practice in commercial prints and illustrative wood engravings. Busch examines the development of Menzel’s technique and compositional facility though experimentation in oil sketches and history paintings, and finally his triumphs as a realist painter of life and labor in Berlin.

Menzel died in 1905 at age 89. For more than fifty years he’d been a member in the Royal Academy of Arts. His funeral was held in the rotunda of the Altes Museum in Berlin, at the direction of the German Kaiser Wilhelm II, who walked behind Menzel’s coffin. A year later, the National Gallery, also in Berlin, acquired the vast bulk of his drawings and paintings.

Werner Busch is former professor of art history at Freie Universität Berlin. I spoke with him on the phone from a studio in Berlin.

Well, Werner, thank you so much for your time.

BUSCH:  No problem.

CUNO:  Now in anticipation of our conversation I checked the Menzel holdings at the Getty, both at the Museum and the Research Institute, and I found that we have 167 items, including two drawings and a sketchbook from 1863. The sketchbook has drawings of children and infants. And hundreds of books, ranging from the earliest book, J. F. Wesley’s His Life and Work, in German, published in 1873, to your earlier book on Menzel from 2004 and your current book, the English translation of which we have just published, and very happily so.

What’s interesting, I think, in these 167 books and items is that seven are in English, and most of these are exhibition catalogs. Only Michael Fried’s book of 2002 is a stand-alone monographic study of Menzel’s work. Even your bibliography has only two items in English, a journal article and Michael Fried’s book. Why do you think there’s been so little English language museum and university interest in Menzel’s work? Why has he remained such a German artist?

BUSCH:  Yes, I think you are quite right. German art of the nineteenth century never enjoyed international standing. American reception of French art of the nineteenth century has absolutely predominated. The collections of the major American collectors are full of French Impressionist paintings. Germany was not united into a nation-state until 1871. Prior to that, it was a multitude of small independent states, and they had no art tradition of its own.

Art had to be imported from Italy and France, despite the German Romantic movement. Even Caspar David Friedrich, the most important German Romantic painter, is hardly represented in American collections. Some years ago the Metropolitan Museum bought it first Friedrich painting. In conjunction with the purchase, I gave a lecture on it in New York. And I—sorry to say this—I am not absolutely sure that it is an authentic work.

But times are changing, in regard to Friedrich and to Menzel, too. At present, we are preparing a translation of Friedrich’s writings for the Getty Research Center [read: Institute], and there are some Menzel drawings in American collection, but they were mostly brought into the country by emigrants from Germany. There are next to none of his paintings in the United State[s] as far as I know, except for a very small one in San Francisco from the Isaac Stern collection.

Menzel’s art, like Friedrich’s, is really not an easy matter. Mostly, not very appealing at the first sight. German art historians around 1900, who were interested in the art of Impressionism, of course, went to Paris, and indeed, had a lot of difficulties with Menzel. His realism seemed to contradict the painterly mode. There were only a few of Menzel’s oil sketches they found acceptable, and in which they saw the French tradition. But they overlooked the simple fact that Menzel’s oil sketches predate the French Impressionist paintings by more than ten, nearly twenty years. Perhaps [he chuckles] our conversation today could help to change these conditions a little bit.

And let me explain. A few weeks ago, I received a call by an elderly lady. She had inherited a painting from her father, who thought it was by Menzel. But years ago art historians were absolutely not convinced by this painting. She showed me the painting and I could not believe my eyes. This painting is really a sensation—a huge pastel from around 1850, Menzel’s best time. It had faded into oblivion for decades. But I was able to trace it back to Menzel’s studio. Now we are preparing an exhibition around this painting in Berlin, at the National Gallery. And next year, it [he chuckles] will be on the art market. Perhaps, I ask, it is something for the Getty Museum.

CUNO:  Well, it sounds fantastic. How many paintings did he paint that we can document? Hundreds? Thousands?

BUSCH:  [over Cuno] Yes, nearly a thousand.

CUNO:  Yeah, yeah. And drawings, maybe many more, right?

BUSCH:  Yes. In Berlin alone are more than several thousand drawings. And altogether, I think more than 10,000.

CUNO:  And most of those in Berlin, he left to the state, the nation of Germany, is that correct?

BUSCH:  That’s right, yeah. It’s from his studio. And some are from his art dealer. He had, at the end of his life, he had a special dealer, and he gave a lot to the museum.

And after his death, they made a great exhibition of all the Menzel items, and that was the greatest exhibition ever [he chuckles] has been in Berlin, with more than 3,000 items.

CUNO:  Oh, gosh. Was he was a popular artist in his time, a successful artist in the in the trade?

BUSCH:  Yes. He was very famous in Germany, and especially in Prussia. But he was not lucky with this state of affairs, because he thought he thought they didn’t—not understand what he really was doing.

CUNO:  Yeah, yeah. Well, what prompted you to write this book now, your second book on Menzel?

BUSCH:  Yeah. I had two main reasons for writing the book. First, we live in an age that is fascinated by contradictions and with works that do not convey a definite sense, but are open to interpretation, which can in an indirect way, expose the problems of our times.

The question for Menzel was how to bring an untidy world into an aesthetic order, without denying the existence of the contradictions of the present. In Menzel’s painting, you still have to feel the tensions of the times. And the second reason, I find that Menzel’s special and intense reception of French art is totally underestimated. We only look for something comparable to the Impressionists, and don’t realize that Menzel studied French and English popular art.

He collected prints by Daumier, he studied English caricature, and obviously possessed English and French almanacs with hundreds of illustrations in wood engravings. So he expounded the field of reality by transporting the motives of popular art into official paintings.

CUNO:  Well, what kind of training did he have as an artist? Academic training or private personal training?

BUSCH:  In a way, no training. He’s an autodidact. He copied, early in his career, prints his father bought for him. But he was gifted by nature. He’d draw everything what he saw, from very beginning of his career. At the age of fourteen, he produced his first successful prints. His father died early, so at seventeen, he had to support his family—his mother and his two younger siblings—and couldn’t study art.

The family moved from a rural area to Berlin, to give the young Menzel more possibilities to advance his career. He produced popular commercial prints, for example, invitation or visiting cards, not seldom with a satirical note. And later, he introduced many of unusual motifs into high art.

CUNO:  Well, what was the market like for lithographs in Berlin at the time? Could he have made a career as an illustrator-caricaturist at the time, like Daumier did before him? Was there a way for him to make a living as an artist independent of commissions of paintings?

BUSCH:  In his way Menzel was highly successful in making his career. He produced hundreds and hundreds of illustrations for historical work, not using the technique of lithography, but that of wood engraving, following the example of French illustrators. The reason is very simple. Technically, in Menzel’s time, it wasn’t possible to print text and illustration in a single process, except when you use wood engravings.

On the other hand, his commercial prints were done as lithographs, because they were individual prints. Daumier’s lithographs, of course, were, too, individual prints but with no text on the same page; it was not possible to do that. Menzel sometimes used inventions borrowed from Daumier for his prints. And in both case[s], it is not easy to decide whether it is a caricature or not.

In the cause of Daumier, it often is; in the case of Menzel, I think normally not. Artists with a strong sense for reality often border on caricature. Even if the inventor of lithography, Alois Senefelder, was German, the printer conducted his main business from Paris.

A pupil of his brought the technique from Paris to Berlin, and also to Menzel. Several lithography businesses were established in Berlin, and Menzel worked for the most important one, that of Louis Sachse, who gave him a lot of jobs. Because Sachse also worked as an art dealer in his shop, Menzel encountered a lot of French painting by artists engaged with harmless subject matter, mostly landscapes, like [Theodore] Gudin, [Camille] Roqueplan, and [Jules] Coignet, practically unknown today.

In Menzel’s time, they were much sought after by the middleclass. Menzel normally used pen lithography, sometimes chalk in lithography. And later he experimented with etching and also with lithographic processes, using a brush or a scraper. He plumbed the possibilities of technical processes to widen his means of expression.

CUNO:  One of the first important works of his that you talk about from 1838 is something called The Journeyman Bricklayer’s Certificate. Tell us about that.

BUSCH:  Yeah. This is a pen lithograph, and it is a commercial print that was ordered by the Council of Berlin. For a lithograph, it is executed in a really huge format—forty-five by more than, I think, fifty centimeters. It’s very ambitious. In a lot of the square segments of the print, you can follow the progress, the training, and the travels of a journeyman bricklayer. In the four corners of the print there are depictions of famous Berlin buildings, like the Nikolai Church or the so-called Bauakademie by [Karl Friedrich] Schinkel, the academy for architects. And Schinkel was the most famous German architect of the nineteenth century.

And the print has an arabesque decorative frame, filled with a lot of really witty inventions. The whole is a playful undertaking with a separate print, the text in the middle. And it is used as a certificate for the journeyman. He can show it on his travels in foreign towns, if he is interested to get a job there. At the center, at the lower part, there is a scene featuring a laying of a foundation stone. This scene is filled with people, including a small hunchbacked drummer wearing a fool’s cap, underneath which Menzel hides his signature. One really grasps that this is a self-portrait. Menzel, with a dwarf-like build, was an outsider who had never been in relationship with any women, and was often rude to whomever he choose, finding consolation only in his family and with close friends.

The working scenes of the bricklayers have been very closely observed by Menzel, as if Menzel had been a profession bricklayer himself. His exactness in describing technical processes is really absolutely astonishing. But his extreme objectivity is also a means for hiding his personal identity. While on the other hand, he is interested in his art and controlling all things, in ruling over them. I think it’s a kind of self-searching, what he is doing.

CUNO:  Yeah. He was famous for walking around the city with a long overcoat with many pockets in it. And in each pocket [BUSCH: Yeah, yeah] there was a sketchbook, and he would pull the sketchbook out at any moment to draw whatever he saw. And he could draw with his left hand and with his right hand; he was ambidextrous.

BUSCH:  Yeah. If we look in his studio we would see two places where he could work. The left one is for the drawing, the right one is for the painting, because the light comes through the window. And when he is painting, he is doing with the right hand; when he is drawing, he is doing with the left hand. And so [Cuno chuckles] he could do it undisturbed, yeah.

CUNO:  Yeah. Now, in 1839—so quite early, it seemed to me—he received a very important commission to illustrate a book by the writer Franz Kugler. And the book was called A History of Frederick the Great. Menzel worked closely with, and at times he fought against, the author, Kugler. Tell us about that project and about its importance to Menzel’s career?

BUSCH:  Well, he received the commission, as you said, in 1839, and he finished it in 1842. And at this time, he still was a very young man, but with an astonishing self-confidence. He produced, in this short time, far more than 400 illustrations and designs them on woodblocks for wood engravings. And then he trained a whole school of wood engravers to achieve the highest quality and comfortably compete with French standards.

Menzel controlled the results, as we can say, day and night. The text for the history of Frederick the Great was written by Franz Kugler. He is an early historian, also art historian, who later became a liberal state official. His text is liberal in a certain way, too. He was interested in the welfare of Prussia, and celebrating the victories of the Prussian Army under Frederick the Great.

Menzel loved Frederick no less, but for really other reasons. He saw in the Prussian king a kind of relative. Frederick was also an outsider, one with homosexual leanings. Frederick knew too well that his victories in war involved heavy losses. He was extremely difficult, with only a very few friends, like Menzel; possessing uttermost self-control, again like Menzel; and has been extremely self-centered, again like Menzel.

Frederick realized that all his victories had undermined his health once and for all. He came back from the Seven Years’ War as a broken old man, and Menzel draw him like that—not as a joyful victor, but filled with doubt, a victim of circumstances.

CUNO:  Was the book a big success? Not an artistic success, but a [BUSCH: Yes, yes] commercial success, too?

BUSCH:  Yeah. Until today, I think 40,000 are printed in different times.

CUNO:  Was the subject, the Prussian king Frederick the Great, was that important for the development of the identity of this emergent coherent nation-state of Prussia at the time and of Germany forty years later?

BUSCH:  Yeah, it was important for Menzel. Although the interpretation of Frederick the Great in the mid-nineteenth century saw him as a model of liberalism, which of course, is really a projection with only a little truth. He did his illustrations around 1830, ’40. And that’s the time the German nation tried to find together.

CUNO:  Now, you point out in your book that a number of the illustrations of the Kugler book on Frederick the Great are of night scenes. And you right of those night scenes that they are primarily concerned with the phenomenon of suggestion. [BUSCH: Yeah, that’s right] I want to ask you what you meant by that, but also to ask you, is that a suggestion, to use the word again, a suggestion of a inherent romanticism in Menzel’s work?

BUSCH:  Yeah. Well, he indeed has been a specialist in night scenes. And one of the reasons is the technique he used, the technique of wood engraving where only a few lines were dug into the surface of the woodblocks, as predistinct for night scenes. Looking at them, you would like to penetrate the darkness, but you find only hints what is hidden in shadow, and you are left to decipher what it is, what is happening, and give it a certain sense.

Only parts of the objects rise out of nearly nothingness. Menzel was extremely gifted at directing assumption about content in such instances.

CUNO:  Would he have been aware of Delacroix’s lithographs. I know you mentioned Daumier, but would he have known Delacroix’s?

BUSCH:  No, no, I don’t think so.

CUNO:  Yeah. [Busch: Yeah] Because it sounds very much like a Delacroix lithograph, and I was thinking of the illustrations of romantic texts.

BUSCH:  Yeah, that’s right. But we have nearly a thousand letters by Menzel and the name of Delacroix never occurs. And also, his art dealer, Sachse, never had a painting by Delacroix. It’s a—the prints sometimes, Goethe illustrations. But we have no sign that he knew it.

CUNO:  Yeah. You do say that he knew that works of a landscape painter of the nineteenth century, British landscape painter John Constable—how did he know Constable’s work? And what did he see in that work that he liked so much?

BUSCH:  Yeah. Well, his reaction to Constable is, it’s a long story. I will make it brief. In Berlin, two paintings of Constable, in the late eighteenth [century], were on an exhibition. And Menzel was so fascinated by them that he remembered the Constables still fifty years later. And you could ask why. Firstly, of course, it was the painterly mode; but then, the eccentric viewpoint, the missing narrative, the not following a traditional theme, and last but not least, the highly unusual colors, to say an example, as a very rich grass green. And so you can compare Menzel’s oil sketches and the sketchy paintings by Constable and there is something which is really comparable between these both.

CUNO:  In Menzel, thinking of Constable, there’s a respect for the liveness of the paintings, a sense of the atmosphere of the landscape. You get some of that in Menzel’s paintings, when he’s looking out of his apartments, out onto the backyards of the gardens of [BUSCH: Yeah, yeah] Berlin.

BUSCH:  That’s only in his oil sketches. And the oil sketches of Menzel were not official works, and not works to sell. They were private exercises, and with their help, he learned to paint in oil. Because before, he only was only a draftsman and engraver. And the themes of the oil sketches, too, were absolutely private. He painted members of his family or views out of the many apartments he changed in rapid succession in Berlin.

So these works were personal documents, mementos of his personal situation at a certain point in his life. They were impressions, which did not need to be finished. For us, they are the result of joyful experience, free, unfiltered expressions of physical self-experience. But don’t be deceived—a compositional structure exists in them all the same. He needs a kind of order, and then he can paint in it very freely.

CUNO:  So we’ve—for the podcast listener, we’ve described Menzel as a printmaker, as a wood engraver, as a lithographer, as a draftsman who’s always drawing everything he sees. As a painter of oil sketches that are intimate, that are private, as you say. But he also gets a commission for a great cycle of history paintings, again on Frederick the Great. How did he get that commission for these great paintings? And what kind of painterly preparation did Menzel have for tackling these big subjects?

BUSCH:  Yeah. Well, he was a workaholic. While working, he was by himself, totally absorbed. When painting or drawing he forgot the world. A lot of anecdotes describe this phenomenon. He has made hundreds and hundreds of drawings in preparing his great paintings, especially the late paintings. Sometimes you have 150 drawings for one painting. And every single moment and every single thing, he is drawing from different sides.

He made drawings he absolutely don’t need in the painting. And so he collected his own drawings. And sometimes when he started with a painting, he look at hundred[s] of drawings, looking what is a motive, what is what I can use for the next painting? And so he’s— had a really, I think, in his desk, more than 5,000, 6,000 drawings. And they were ordered by themes, and so it was easy for him to look over them.

CUNO:  Did he get a commission for this series of paintings of Frederick the Great, or was it a private exercise for him?

BUSCH:  That’s an interesting question. Mostly, there is not anybody who asked him for this painting. Very few for private owners, but not officials. And he was interested to get the Hohenzollern, the reigning dynasty in Prussia, as somebody who ask him for paintings. But it never happened. And he did it and made exhibitions with it. And normally, there were no success. That’s an interesting phenomenon with these paintings.

CUNO:  You described his struggle with the series, the most important painting in the series, the battle scene of Frederick the Great when he addresses his generals before the Battle of Leuthen. Could you describe that painting for our listeners? And could you tell us why it was a failure, or thought by him to have been a failure?

BUSCH:  Yeah. The Leuthen painting is unfinished. And it’s one of the biggest paintings he ever did. But Menzel gave it up after many attempts. Frederick addressing his generals before the Battle of Leuthen marks a decisive moment in the Seven Years’ War. The Austrian Army was by large superior. Frederick’s situation seemed hopeless. Frederick said this completely to his generals, and left it up to them to leave the battlefield. Of course, nobody went.

Frederick risked a surprise attack and won the battle, but losing a lot of his generals and soldiers. In his painting, Menzel arranged the generals around Frederick, viewed from slightly above. The generals in the foreground of the painting appear much larger than the small figure of Frederick, who disappears in the group. This was, again, totally unacceptable for an official painting of a hero.

The Prussian king desired that far-reaching changes be made, which were now unacceptable for Menzel. And so he left the painting as it was and never touched it again. Parts of the painting, especially in the background, are finished, and they are really marvelous. A misty, snowy day, with touches of violet and turquoise green. It’s really a wonder of paint. But of course, again, no success.

CUNO:  What happened to these paintings of Frederick the Great by Menzel? Did they stay together in his studio for a very long time? Did they enter into the national collections only after his death?

BUSCH:  Both is right. A lot of these paintings were long in his studio. And some were, after the late sixties, bought by the Hohenzollern Dynasty and got a new interpretation. But some of these were, at the end of his life, in his studio, and they then came to the market, and they went to the National Gallery.

CUNO:  Yeah. Well, it was a difficult time in the middle of the nineteenth century in Berlin, as I mentioned earlier, about the revolution of 1848. But there was also a defeat—that is, the Germans defeated the Austrians—in 1866 at the Battle of Koniggratz. And that had an effect on Menzel and his art. What was that effect? Why did that battle mean so much to him?

BUSCH:  Well, let me say it only in this way. Menzel, with his physical imperfections—he could not fight as a soldier or ride a horse—but who had illustrated hundreds of war scenes, had in fact, never witnessed a real war, let alone participated in a battle. And after the Battle of Koniggratz, between Prussia and Austria, which brought Prussia a decisive victory, he decided to weather the battlefield. What he found there were dead and dying soldiers; lead and straw in the barn; crying, stinking, covered with boils, blood, and urine.

And what did Menzel do? He took his sketchbook, positioned himself only a meter away from the corpse, and draw them, with all the horrifying details, unrelentingly. After that, in the evening, he added watercolors to the drawings, to make them even more unbearable. That’s more than even Goya did. Menzel himself was deeply traumatized, in the long term. Executing these drawings demanded all his concentration. But after that, he refused, for all times, any jobs to paint war scenes. He never touched the motif again.

CUNO:  I know that painting from the illustration in your book, and I know some of the drawings over which he worked so hard to get right the physical effects of death and dying on the human body. It is astonishing. And there’s something that while he poured his energy into accurately depicting these scenes, that he turned away from them because of that. He was, however, interested in industrialization, which was a kind of warfare; that the Iron Rolling Mill painting from 1872 to 1875 shows hundreds of workers working in a hot and dangerous iron factory. And then outdoors in a market scene, where this crowd and crowd of people, almost like a battle scene; that is, to depict these people coming into physical contact with each other. So that even if he turned himself away from the actual depictions of warfare, he was still interested in bodies in motion and crowds of people.

BUSCH:  That’s right. After the experience of the battlefield he never painted a history painting. It’s very easy. In the seventies and the eighties, he painted scenes with multitudes of people and only themes of the present. With good reason, these paintings were called “teeming paintings.” They are so crowded that it’s irritating. Especially because all the people in the painting are, as you said, really in a frenzy of motion.

Menzel tried to catch the experience of the modern city and the sights of modern industry—disordered, dangerous, chaotic. Menzel functioned, really, as an exorcist, seeking an artistic equivalent for a disturbing phenomenon. And yet again, he executed hundreds, literally hundreds of drawings, in preparation for these paintings, studying every detail.

CUNO:  He spent so much time on these two paintings, the Iron Rolling Mill of 1872 and the Piazza d’Erbe of 1882 to ’84, with all the drawing that you just described, and all the work in the development of the composition, and the depiction of individual expressions on people’s faces and so forth and the gestures of their bodies. He spent months, I would think, on paintings like this, maybe even more than that. What happened to those paintings? Did they go to the market? I’m just trying to give our listeners a sense of his place in the developing art trade and how he could earn a living while he was spending so much time and energy on these large paintings.

BUSCH:  It’s interesting. These paintings were not difficult to sell for him. He found private owners of the industry scene and the banker and—so these paintings were modern and they had no difficulties for the public to accept these paintings. It’s really funny. His history paintings had a lot of difficulties, and these paintings, with such modern themes, unattractive, in a way, were a good bargain for him.

CUNO:  [he chuckles] I guess. And before these paintings of the 1870s and 1880s, in the decade of the 1850s and sixties, he was in Paris. Why did he go to Paris, and what did he think he would find in Paris?

BUSCH:  Yeah. Menzel had been in Paris three times, to visit the Exposition Universelle, and the World Fairs. Several of Menzel[’s] paintings were shown there. Sometimes he thought that he would be treated better in Paris than in Germany. He wandered through the city and made drawings of whatever he saw, the changing city, the zoo, people in the parks, the demolition of dozens of buildings. And he visited French modern art exhibitions a show of sixty paintings by Manet, works by Monet, the alternative exhibition pavilion of Courbet, and so on. And back in Berlin, he painted the Tuileries Gardens, after his Paris sketches as answer to the same subject by Manet. It is not easy to define the differences between both artists. To put it as simply as possible, Manet paints, well, let us say, a carpet of splotches. The surface of the painting dominates. The eye leaps from one spot to the next. Some parts are rendered precisely; others are just touches.

BUSCH:  In a way, it’s a journey for the eye. Menzel, on the other hand, views the scene from an angle slightly above the crowd, and so creates space and perspective based on an abstract order. The motifs by both artists are the same; the experiences of the paintings are totally different. In London, in National Gallery today, you can view both paintings side by side. And that’s really an interesting comparison.

CUNO:  What was his career like at the end of his life? Was it presumptuous on his part to leave his studio to Berlin, to the National Gallery? Did he do that because he wanted to leave a legacy that was not appreciated in his lifetime? Or was it, at the end of his life that he was a celebrated painter and so it was quite natural for him to leave his legacy to the National Gallery?

BUSCH:  I’m not sure that he himself gave it as a legacy to the National Gallery. His family did, after his death. He gave it all to his family, what he had collected. And well, at the end of his life, he had a difficult position. In a way, he was very famous, but as a funny person. All knew Menzel, and there were a lot of anecdotes about him. The people know that he painted things nobody else would [have] painted, like his foot, perhaps. [Cuno chuckles]

It’s one of his funny paintings. All these things are connected with anecdotes about Menzel. He was famous, and he didn’t like it. He was harsh to the people, and he was—well, he was a lonely person.

CUNO:  Well, it is really a fantastic subject and a fantastic book. And it’s a great regret that we have in this country, that we don’t see more Menzel. And we’ll never see a lot of Menzel, because the National Gallery in Berlin has all the Menzels.

BUSCH:  That’s right, yeah. But there has been one great exhibition some years ago. They started in Berlin, then in Paris, and in Washington.

CUNO:  Yes, I saw that exhibition. Françoise Foster-Hahn. And I remember Michael Fried going to that exhibition—and for our listeners to know that Michael Fried is a great art historian of French painting of the nineteenth century—and he was changed completely by his contact with Menzel. And he even said with all the enthusiasm that Michael can have about his opinions of things, he said that Menzel was such a great artist, the greatest artist, so great that even the Germans don’t know how great he is.

BUSCH:  Yeah. I think he is right. I met him several times, and one time we traveled to Dresden. There was an exhibition of Menzel drawings, and we had the possibility to look at it for several hours, and explained [to] each other what we felt about these drawings. It was a wonderful meeting. And I think he was absolutely fascinated by Menzel.

CUNO:  One of your ambitions in your two books is obviously to make better known the work of Menzel. I hope and we expect that this book, your second book now, will confirm to an English-speaking audience, the importance of Menzel as one of the greatest painters of the nineteenth century, and one of the greatest German painters of all time. So Werner, thank you so much for the book and for the opportunity to publish in its English edition here at the Getty, and for all the work you’re doing to celebrate this great career and great achievement of Adolph Menzel.

BUSCH:  Yes, I thank you, too. It’s—it was nice to speak about it. And I hope the book will take its way.

CUNO:  Our theme music comes from “The Dharma at Big Sur,” composed by John Adams for the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in 2003. It is licensed with permission from Hendon Music. Look for new episodes of Art and Ideas every other Wednesday. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Google Play Music. For photos, transcripts, and other resources, visit Thanks for listening.


JIM CUNO:  Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.

WERNER BUSCH:  He was famous, and he didn’t like it. He was harsh to the people, and he was—w...

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