After the 1860s, Menzel was a regular guest at the large gatherings in the Berlin Stadtschloß (City Palace). He recorded his impressions as paintings, of which The Dinner at the Ball is the most complex. The company is shown from a high viewpoint during a pause in the dancing. In a vibrant play of colour, Menzel captures small, individual incidents in the midst of Gründerzeit (c. 1871–1890) pomp, showing with subtle irony the difficulty of maintaining the correct posture while eating, the chattering of voices, and the overall sense of animation. The throng seems to be without a focal point, but the composition is held together by the movement of the entire crowd towards the viewer. There is no place for detail in this work that is, while sketchy, more of an atmospheric whole. As in earlier interiors, the room is divided and layered by the refraction of the lights at numerous points in the mirrors and chandeliers. The interiors, chandelier light, and magnificent clothes of Menzel’s late work balance his contemporaneous street and factory scenes like The Iron Rolling Mill and mark his increasing interest in painting large crowds of people. As so often elsewhere, what looks like meticulous attention to detail on Menzel’s part turns out to be illusory: neither are the rooms accurately portrayed nor are there any actual portraits of particular individuals in the crowd. The painting conveys a picture of Wilhelmine society whose lustre Menzel was brilliantly able to convey, and yet whose ambivalence he did no more than register as an apparently neutral chronicler.


  • Title: The Dinner at the Ball
  • Creator: Adolph Menzel
  • Date Created: 1878
  • Physical Dimensions: w90.0 x h71.0 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Technique and material: Oil on canvas
  • Inv.-No.: A I 902
  • ISIL-No.: DE-MUS-815114
  • External link: Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Copyrights: Text: © Prestel Verlag / Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Photo: © b p k - Photo Agency / Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Jörg P. Anders
  • Collection: Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Artist biography: After his father’s death in 1830, Menzel became the owner of a lithographic business in Berlin, where he lived and worked most of his live. As an artist, he lacked substantial artistic education, visiting the University of Arts in Berlin for only 6 months, and was mostly self-taught. In spite of this, he became the most renowned artist in 19th-century Germany. His most important works depict various historic events connected to the life of Frederick the Great, such as the Flute Concert of Frederick the Great at Sanssouci, or other events connected to Prussia.
  • Artist Place of Death: Berlin, Germany
  • Artist Place of Birth: Breslau, Poland
  • Artist Dates: 1815-12-08/1905-02-09

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