(Breslau 1815 - Berlin 1905)
A Man at a Grinding Stone
Signed with initials A. M. at the lower right.
207 x 130 mm. (8 3/8 x 5 1/8 in.)
In an undated letter to the art critic Ludwig Pietsch, Menzel described the figure for which this drawing is a study: ‘I wanted the apprentice to be sharpening a scythe blade (the person waiting is a peasant, close-shaven as they are in those parts, and he is holding the shaft), but his action would have forced me to make him use different arm and hand movements which would not have fitted in so well. So I left the blade in question on the ground with some others waiting to be sharpened. It was not possible to clarify the kind of blade simply because the horizon line does not allow a plan view, which has to be imagined by the onlooker.’
Menzel seems to have studied the seated pose of the knife-grinder in a number of drawings, eventually selecting the attitude depicted in the present sheet for the figure in the final work. The artist, as was his habit, marked the chosen drawing with a small cross. As a modern scholar has noted of Menzel, ‘The drawings in his sketchbooks differ from his resolved autonomous compositions. The former seek to capture fleeting movements, gestures, and expressions and are often executed at great speed. When Menzel was satisfied with his rapid observational sketch and considered it potentially useful, he would mark it with a little cross next to the figures.’
Among a handful of extant preparatory drawings for the Hamburg painting is an earlier compositional study of the blacksmith working at the grinding stone, dated 1879, in the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin. Drawings for other figures in the Knife-Grinder’s Workshop at the Smithy in Hofgastein are in the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin, the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum in Hannover, and elsewhere.
C. G. Boerner, Düsseldorf, in 1990
Kunsthandel Wolfgang Werner, Berlin and Bremen, by 1994
Private collection, North Rhine-Westphalia
Galerie Pels-Leusden AG, Zurich, by 2002
Private collection, Switzerland
Anonymous sale, Berlin, Villa Grisebach, 30 May 2003, lot 2
Anonymous sale, Berlin, Villa Grisebach, 23 November 2011, lot 169