Frederick the Great and his Marshals before the Battle of Leuthen (1859 - 1861) by Adolph MenzelAlte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Some people are good at handling criticism. Some people not so much. Adolph Menzel’s response to a vicious round of feedback on a half finished painting can be filed in the “That’s it, I quit!” category.
It shows (or rather, doesn’t) the king, in his characteristic 3-corner hat, addressing a group of his officers after a series of military defeats ...
... presenting them with a demand risk: everything in one more battle or be discharged from the army.
It was a very emotional moment. Menzel wrote of his painting: “It is about painting a moral impression”, intending for it to be entirely without heroics.
But this turned out to be a problem for King Wilhelm I. He wanted his ancestor to look more regal.
He asked for a lot of changes. But Menzel disagreed and never finished the painting abandoning the project with a number of the figures left blank.
Menzel’s disappointment later turned to aggression and he actually let models scratch out peoples’ eyes and faces in the scene.
Not enough that the missing figures look like ghosts. With the scratched out spots, the picture is reminiscent of war and destruction. Who says anger only breaks things? Sometimes something surprisingly new arises.
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz