Adolph Friedrich Erdmann von Menzel's birth was in December 1815, in the city of Breslau, which then was part of the Prussian Silesia, today, the town belongs to Poland.
His father was a lithographer whose intentions were to educate his son for him to become a professor. However, young Adolph rejected such a career. In 1818, Menzel’s father set up his lithographic workshop. His family moved to Germany in 1830, two years later, Menzel was obligated to take over the workshop following his father’s death.
In 1833, the artist studied for a short period at the Berlin Academy of Art, where he studied drawing from ancient sculptures and plaster casts. Apart from this period, Menzel was a self-taught artist.
Between 1839 and 1842, the artist produced several drawings, several of them would become prints, vastly introducing to Germany the printmaking technique of wood-engraving. The artist illustrated the History of Frederick the Great, by historian Franz Kugler. He was quite fond of the Prussian King. King Frederick William IV himself commissioned one of these illustrations.
Meanwhile, Menzel was also studying oil painting by himself. Soon, he was already executing a significant number of pictures, as well as quite varied in their themes. The artist would complete several paintings depicting the life and achievements by Frederick the great at the same time he created mundane scenes of everyday life.
During his lifetime, Menzel was very appreciated by quite powerful and influential characters, such as William I and Otto von Bismarck, the very Prussian statesman, as well as the unifier and future Chancellor of the German Empire. Sadly, von Bismarck was not the only German ruler to be fond of Menzel’s artwork. After his death, Adolph Hitler used the artist’s paintings as electoral posters.
Menzel is often considered one of the exponents of Impressionism, for several of his paintings, show smooth and free brushstrokes. However, the artist was not very fond of this new-born style; he preferred a more Academic art style. Some scholars would state that Menzel’s painting potential was hindered by his graphic works, others, that these artworks were responsible for his excellent draughtsmanship.
Menzel was very celebrated during his lifetime. He was the first painter ever to gain admittance to the Order of the Black Eagle, the highest chivalry rank from the Prussian Kingdom. By entering the Order, Menzel raised to nobility, which was when the artist added “von,” becoming Adolph von Menzel. He also became a member of the Royal Academy in London, as well as the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
Adolph von Menzel died in 1905 in Berlin. His funeral was arranged by the Kaiser, who would walk behind the artist’s coffin.