Called "the greatest living master" by Edgar Degas, Adolph von Menzel was the leading German artist of the second half of the 19th century. A proponent of Realism who also anticipated the effects of French Impressionism, Menzel recorded life in Berlin, capturing the cosmopolitan metropolis.
Menzel's father ran a lithography press, and Menzel took over to support the family upon his father's death. After attending the Royal Academy of Art in Berlin from 1833 to 1834, Menzel worked initially in printmaking, then began to concentrate on oil painting. Menzel strongly advocated the medium of drawing, which held a greatly important position in his oeuvre. An obsessive draftsman, he sketched from life, carrying a notebook and carpenter's pencil at all times to record the faces or unconscious poses of strangers who caught his attention. In Study of a Man with a Beard, His Hand in His Pocket, Menzel meticulously records a working man's wispy hair, long scraggly beard, and facial features, which stand in stark contrast to the smudged passages of the coat. Despite the man's relaxed pose, his darting eyes energize his passive stance. To the right, Menzel experimented by re-sketching his subject's face at a slightly more-frontal angle.