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The Balcony Room

Adolph Menzel1845

Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Of all the examples of the painterly spontaneity of the young Menzel’s art, The Balcony Room is one of the earliest and also most admired. Unlike contemporary Biedermeier interior views, this painting gives no conclusive information as to the room’s aspect. Two thirds of the surfaces are simply empty. It is only in the mirror that there is any detail: a petit-bourgeois inventory of the most mundane sort, oddly disarranged and far from homey. Large areas of the picture are “unfinished,” which in fact means that the paint, not depicting something else, retains a life of its own. The actual theme of the painting is immaterial: strong light pours into the room with a gust of wind that blows the fine, white curtains inwards, and that is all the viewer discovers about the otherwise undefined outside world. A lack of consistency in observing precise perspectives, following the rules of linear construction, makes the floor appear to incline towards the viewer. This suggests different stages of perception simultaneously.

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