Adolph Menzel was the leading German artist of the second half of the 19th century. Born in 1815, he exhibited his first drawing at the age of 12. His father ran a lithographic printing works, and by the time he was 14, Menzel was contributing illustrations to publications.
Active first as a printmaker, and a dazzling draftsman throughout his prolific career, he turned to oil painting only after he was 30. His technical virtuosity and skill at capturing visual phenomena (such as the way in which we perceive background objects as unfocussed and blurred compared to foreground ones) attracted wide attention, and anticipated some of the effects of French Impressionism by 30 years.
During his lifetime, he was most famous for his illustrations of the life of the 18th-century Prussian monarch, Frederick the Great, and his court. Menzel was deeply concerned with historical accuracy and every detai,l down to the buttons on a uniform or the handle on a sword, was meticulously researched.
When visiting Paris, Menzel was in contact with artists there including Edgar Degas and Ernest Meissonier. He is remembered as the unparalleled chronicler of life in Berlin. He was knighted in 1898, and received a state funeral upon his death in 1905.