Which is why I was particularly interested in Gurney's perspective on Adolph Menzel, the great German draftsman who felt similarly compelled to record everything he saw, everywhere he went. Gurney's excellent new book on Menzel fills a great void by retrieving and publishing drawings that have been hidden away for decades in an East German museum.
Menzel's obsession with recording worldly things enabled him to see the drama we might otherwise miss in a chest full of old documents:
Or to show us his respect for the symmetry and structure of a steel mill:
Menzel didn't put down his pencil when an acquaintance sat on the toilet:
Or even when opening caskets to help identify bodies:
|Gurney's book contains a fascinating story about Menzel's 1873 expedition into a dark crypt beneath a garrison church to open old military coffins and identify the remains of the officers there. He drew these figures by lantern light.|
But the thing that impressed me most about these drawings by Menzel is that the process didn't become mechanical for him. He was not drawing out of mere habit. After thousands and thousands of drawings, he still responded to the visual power of the world around him:
Gurney's large, thoughtful selection of images shows the full range of Menzel's drawing, and some I liked more than others, but they all make clear that Menzel was drawing for the right reasons.