The authenticity of this work has been kindly confirmed by Dr Eckhard Schaar in a letter dated 2nd December, 2000.
Menzel's aesthetics and technique bear a striking proximity to that of the French Impressionists, with whom he shared an intense passion for the depiction of modern life. The German artist's skill in capturing 'snapshots' of the bourgeois vie quotidienne for some contemporary commentators surpassed even the Impressionists: '... Which artist will now render the imposing grandeur, and follow the way openened up by the German Menzel, by venturing into immense ironworks [a reference to Menzel's Das Eisenwalzwerk], into the railway stations that M. Claude Monet has, it is true, already attempted to paint, but without managing to bring in his vague abbreviations the colossal magnitude of the locomotives and their setting? (J.K. Huysmans, 'L'Art Moderne', Certains, 10/18, 1889, p. 134).
The analysis of Menzel's position in relation to Impressionism is at the core of the most recent critical debate on the artist. On one side, 'In their analysis of Menzel's life and work, art historians... agree on the key role Paris played in the nineteenth century as the most important centre of artistic creation that left a mark on Menzel's development' (T.W. Gaehgtens, Between Romanticism and Impressionism, exh. cat., Paris, 1996, p. 113). On the other side, one cannot simply call Menzel a 'pre-Impressionist', considering the multifarious components of his style, from Realism, to Romanticism, to a very original Impressionism - a fusion of pictorial syntaxes which finds in the present drawing a mature expression.
What most impressed his French colleagues, and above all Degas, was Menzel's extraordinary skill as a draughtsman - a skill masterly exemplified by Das Kartenspiel. As a self-taught artist, drawing held a position of great importance in his oeuvre from the outset, and his advocacy of the medium was founded on his unparalleled ability, as he saw it, to capture the momentary and fleeting aspects of nature. His attraction to the witty, sapid narration of social anecdotes is displayed in his body of finished drawings, to which he worked almost exclusively from 1895 onwards, reaching a mastery of technique exemplified in his late tours de force. As Peter-Klaus Schuster has written, 'Fragmented forms are common in Menzel's work occupying his attention well into the last drawings. It can be assumed that he saw in the fragment the most logical way to make visible the momentary... Indeed has not photography called such an art into question?' (ibidem, 1996, p. 130).
Schuster's analysis brings into focus one of the most interesting aspects of Menzel's art and the very basis of his modernity: his unique way of framing his subjects. As Schuster points out, the viewer of Menzel's work is constantly reminded of photography. In Das Kartenspiel, the daring framing of the image, played around different narrative nuclei, is extremely close to the methods of cadrage typical of the photographic technique. Moreover, Menzel transferred into drawing one of the tricks of avant-garde photography, by focusing on the sharp definition of the foreground and blurring the background in a sophisticated sfumato, with an effect of extraordinary modernity.