The children's album consists of 43 sheets that Menzel painted between 1861 and 1883. In the later years he probably reworked some of the early sheets. Mostly executed in gouache technique, they vary in format, choice of perspective, composition and detail, which emphasizes the quality of each individual picture.
There is evidence that Menzel had intended to paint one sheet each year for the birthdays of his niece Margarethe (b. 1860) and nephew Otto (b.1881), children of his sister Emilie. Since the sheets are dated only at the beginning, however, an attribution or sequence cannot be determined.
There is no direct connection between the motifs of the individual sheets. They show mainly animals, such as chickens, dogs and calves, ducks, pheasants, a stork in the reeds, or zoo animals such as tigers and bears. The painter seems particularly fascinated by exotic birds such as cockatoo, macaw or parrot, whose plumage he paints again and again. He often includes sketches made on his walks, often together with the children, in the Berlin zoo, the zoological garden and the summer resort in the countryside.
The pictures are not directly intended for the children's hands, even if the dedication on the cover sheet clearly states: "From the uncle to the children". Menzel mounted each of the newly created sheets in his father's music cabinet, which was equipped with glass doors, so that the children (and adults) could look at them repeatedly. He then collected the sheets in a portfolio. This demonstrates Menzel's appreciation of these paintings, which he by no means regarded as inferiour by-products. He referred to these works with the neologism "Albogen," which combines the two terms "Album" and "Bogen" (sheet).
Adolf von Menzel, born 1815 in Breslau, died 1905 in Berlin, is considered one of the most important representatives of German Realism. He worked as an illustrator, graphic artist and painter and gained a reputation as a history painter at a young age.
The self-taught artist celebrated his first success in 1840 with 400 woodcuts for Franz Kugler's "History of Frederick the Great". Since then he increasingly turned to painting and in the 1850s became known for his oil paintings of the Prussian royal court. Throughout his life he kept numerous sketchbooks. They bear witness to his keen eye, his sense for details and peculiarities, as well as his interest in unusual pictorial compositions and perspectives.
The "Children's Album" occupies a special position in the artist's extensive œuvre. Although intended for children, the works are inextricably linked to the oeuvre as a whole and were held in particularly high esteem by the artist, friends and family. In 1884, the 43 sheets were presented to the public for the first time in an exhibition at the National Gallery in Berlin and were also shown in Paris in 1885. In 1889, "Das Kinderalbum" was sold to the Berlin National Gallery together with an extensive collection of the artist's works. Hugo von Tschudi, who organized a large exhibition in 1905, the year of Menzel's death, reproduced all the pictures of the "Kinderalbum" with the exception of the title page in his edition of the work and thus placed them in the complete context. In 1910, a posthumous selection of 25 sheets in original-sized collotype prints was published by E.A. Seemann Verlag in Leipzig, and two years later an annotated popular edition appeared.
A French edition appeared in Paris in around 1910 (probably 1912), 1955 by Seemann, in 1986 by Dausien. The originals of the "Kinderalbum" are today held in the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett (Museum of Prints and Drawings).
Werner Busch, Adolph Menzel. Leben und Werk.
Munich: Beck, 2005
Werner Busch, Adolph Menzel. The Quest for Reality
Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2017