Adolph von Menzel - The Flute Concert of Frederick the Great at Sanssouci

by Alexandra Tuschka


Adolph Menzel worked for two years on this gold-soaked painting. In the center, Frederick the Great can be seen with his traverse flute. The guests around him are watching him attentively.

The ladies sit, lay their heads crosswise, smile; the male guests are depicted standing out of reverence for the ruler. Their exhilarated faces also testify to a good mood. The musicians in the right part of the picture are waiting intently for their cue. At the harpsichord sits none other than Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach.

Only one stands out: the man leaning idly against the right wall of the picture does not seem to have much interest in this concert - it is the king's flute teacher Johann Joachim Quantz. You wonder how we know that? - The artist himself announced the names of the sitters during a preliminary study and immediately made most of the people identifiable.

According to this, the lady on the sofa with the tilted head is supposed to represent Wilhelmine, Margravine of Bayreuth. The concert was dedicated to her. The fat man on the left edge of the picture, Count Gustav Adolf von Gotter, was described by his contemporaries as "annoying". Quantz and von Gotter also form the compositional picture frame as profile figures.


Apart from the flute teacher, who invites smiling, the painting is strongly idealizing - from the chandelier an unnatural light falls on the musician. The flute stand in the center divides the painting into the musicians and the sovereign's guests. Although Menzel is known for his realism, this work shows impressionistic traits in that the forms blur together and light and shadow affect the viewer's sensibilities.


Adolph von Menzel - The Flute Concert of Frederick the Great at Sanssouci

Oil on canvas, 1850 - 1852, 142 x 205 cm, Old National Gallery in Berlin