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Coffeehouse Scene

Europe, Germany

Ferdinand Balzer (1872 - 1916)

20th century CE
Graphite on wove paper, 8 1/4 x 6 3/8 in.
Gift of The Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2007.15.12

Object Type: Drawing and Watercolor

Goedde Class
Traces of the Hand: Master Drawings from the Collection of Frederic and Lucy S. Herman | January 25, 2013 - May 26, 2013

Ferdinand Balzer
German, 1872 - 1916
Coffeehouse Scene, 1900
Graphite on wove paper, 8 1/4 x 6 3/8 in (20.96 x 16.19 cm) (sheet)
Provenance: Artist’s estate; dealer Joseph Fach, gift, to Frederick and Lucy Herman, 1972
Gift of The Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2007.15.12

Known primarily in Germany for his genre and landscape scenes, Ferdinand Balzer spent most of his life in Frankfurt.1 In his unsigned Coffeehouse Scene, Balzer heavily works the surface with his highly energetic line, exploiting graphite’s luminescent, silvery, almost metallic luster, as well as its capacity for rendering a wide range of values and detail. While graphite can at first glance be difficult to distinguish from charcoal, its line is smoother than charcoal, especially in heavily worked areas which have a distinctive silvery sheen.2

Balzer’s handling of medium and composition are characteristic of the late nineteenth-century tendency in drawing to capture the immediacy of an impression, creating in effect a graphic snapshot. Like the works of Edgar Degas or Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Balzer’s drawing cut off objects and figures at the edges of the pictorial field, a compositional technique influenced by the random framing possible in photography. This effect is most notable in the man in the right foreground, whose bug-eyed stare and open mouth are seemingly incongruous with the apparently innocent gesture of a woman selecting a flower from the tray offered by the old man at left. While he is barely described, his face in shadow, the face of the foreground figure is much more delicately modeled as he seems caught in a moment whose import is hard for us to define—is he responding to the interaction of the other two figures or is he caught in animated conversation, talking to someone off to the left, out of our view?

The woman chooses a flower with her graceful bare hand, contrasting with the rough gloved hand of the vendor. The expression on her partly shaded face conveys something slightly sinister. Her dark neck wrap has a high sheen, as well as soft velvety texture, due to Balzer’s heavy pressure on the pencil. While depicting a scene typical of the café iconography of artists like Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec, Balzer deftly uses the expressive capacity of graphite pencil to suggest something darker in this moment of ordinary life.

Marika Kielland
Mary Haviland

1Dankmar Trier, “Balzer, Ferdinand,” Allgemeines Künstler-Lexikon, Munich, 1992, Vol. 6, 540.
2James Watrous, in The Craft of Old-Master Drawings (University of Wisconsin Press, 1957), 138. Graphite is a mineral; lead is a metal.


“Balzer, Ferdinand.” Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon bio-bibligraphischer Index A-Z. Band 6:540-541. München: K.G. Saur, 1999.

Chappell, Miles, ed. “Ferdinand Balzer.” Form, Function, and Finesse: Drawings from the Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, Catalogue of the Exhibition and Handlist of the Collection. Williamsburg, Virginia: Joseph and Margaret Muscarelle Museum of Art, College of William & Mary, 1983.

Eichler, Inge. “Atelierdarstellungen von Frankfurter Künstlern des 19. Jahrhunderts.” Die Weltkunst, 66:9, 1996.

Griffiths, Antony and Frances Carey. German Printmaking in the Age of Goethe London: British Museum, 1994. The Print in Germany 1880-1933. London: British Museum, 1984.

Hartley, Keith, ed. The Romantic Spirit in German Art 1790-1990. Edinburgh and London: Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the Hayward Gallery, London, 1994.

Meder, Joseph. The Mastery of Drawing. Vol. 1. New York: Abaris Books, 1978.

Prelinger, Elizabeth. Kathë Kollwitz. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1992.

Rathke, Eward and Sylvia Rathke-Kohl. Collagen aus sechs Jahrzehnten: Austellung 6 April bis 19 Mai 1968. Frankfurt: Frankfurter Kunstverein, 1968.

Trauergesselschaft, 1895.

Trier, Dankmar. “Balzer, Ferdinand.” Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon bio-bibligraphischer Index A-Z. Band 6:540. München: K.G. Saur, 1999.

Valdivieso, Edith. Ferdinand Balzer, die Porträtzeichnungen: eine Ausstellung der Joseph Fach Gmbh, Galerie und Kunstantiquariat, vo m28 November – 22 Dezember 2006. Vol. 90 of Katalog. Frankfurt: Main Galerie und Kunstantiquariat Joseph Fach, 2006.

Watrous, James. The Craft of Old-Master Drawings. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1957.

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