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Menzel's Realism: Art and Embodiment in Nineteenth-Century Berlin Hardcover – October 1, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This terrific study by Johns Hopkins Humanities professor Fried is, in effect, two books, both of enormous importance and value. The first is a pioneering and thorough (if idiosyncratic) critical biography of Adolf Menzel (1815–1905), a great 19th-century realist painter still too little-known outside of his native Germany. The second is the present culmination of Fried’s hugely ambitious attempt, begun with 1988’s Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and the Beholder in the Age of Diderot, to rewrite the history of art since the Enlightenment. While the ultimate success or failure of Fried’s larger project (previous volumes have dealt with such artists as Courbet and Eakins) will undoubtedly be a matter of debate for decades to come, its sweeping scale and conceptual daring give this volume an unexpected polemical intensity. Against the primarily optical drift of Impressionism and the criticism it engendered—the privileging of isolated transcendent visual moments, or "holistic act(s) of seeing"—Fried posits an art of embodiment, in which the artist constructs images reflecting not only the other senses, but the movement of the subject through time and space. Menzel’s vast oeuvre and broad range of treatment and subject have worked against his acceptance into the mainstream canon, but his career is given convincingly coherent shape not only by Fried’s inspired close readings of individual paintings and drawings (beautifully reproduced in 70 color and 100 b&w illustrations), but by his meticulous unraveling of the artist’s relationships with the intellectual currents of 19th-century Berlin. The richly allusive aesthetic writings of Soren Kierkegaard, for example, the Danish philosopher who was a contemporary of Menzel’s, are brought forward with rare intelligence and appropriateness. Menzel himself is a compelling figure—very small in stature, and seized with great ambition both as artist and professional man. Fried shows him bringing to the drawing of a pair of binoculars the same clarity of purpose as he does to a domestic interior or a huge history painting. Menzel’s voracious engagement with the world is both contextualized and shared by Fried, who at one point, writing about his subject’s magisterial sketch of a bicycle, confesses his wish to reach into the drawing and ring it. It is precisely this kind of passionate, intimate and informed advocacy that makes Menzel’s Realism not only a great work by a critic at the top of his game, but a stirring humanist document.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.


...[R]eproductions are high quality and...detailed notes are helpful[,] as is the chronology of milestones in Menzel's life. -- Library Journal

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (October 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300092199
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300092196
  • Product Dimensions: 11.3 x 8.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,162,832 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Midkiff on December 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I just started reading the book and have learned so much about my relative. This book has filled in many of the gaps in the stories passed down by other family members. I can see the connection of past family artists with the current family artists. Very interesting reading.
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1 of 18 people found the following review helpful By V. Alejandra on July 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
it is a good book, there is enough information, it also shows the drawings of this painter who is also a great sketcher, teacher in the use of the pencil, but I want that I had but illustrations and but great.
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