Adolph von Menzel was born in Breslau in 1815, the son of a headmaster, who soon afterwards founded a lithographic press, in which Adolph worked from the age of fourteen. The family moved to Berlin in 1830 and Adolph Menzel was responsible for supporting it after the untimely death of his father. In 1833-34 Adolph Menzel attended the Royal Academy of Art, where he met the wallpaper manufacturer Carl Heinrich Arnold, who would become a friend and patron.
Success as an artist came to Adolph Menzel with a commission from the art dealer and publisher Louis Sachse to create a series of lithographs on Goethe's "Künstlers Erdenwallen". In 1834 von Menzel joined the "Younger Artists' Association". By then he was working more in oils. In 1838 he was admitted to the "Elder Artists’ Association". A year later Adolph Menzel was commissioned to illustrate Franz Kugler's "History of Frederick the Great".
In 1839 Adolph Menzel was introduced to Constable's paintings. Under the spell of the aborted 1848 Revolution in Germany, Adolph Menzel did a history painting that was never completed: "Aufbahrung der Märzgefallenen" ("The Dead of March Lie in State", 1848, Kunsthalle Hamburg). In 1849 Menzel embarked on a cycle of paintings dealing with the life and achievements of Frederick the Great. In 1850 Menzel completed one of his best-known paintings of the greatest monarch of the Enlightenment, "Frederick the Great with Friends at Table".
Menzel joined the Royal Academy of Art in 1953, was appointed professor and belonged to the Senate from 1875, all milestones in the career of this successful artist. Menzel went to Paris for the first time in 1855 to visit the Exposition Universelle and saw Courbet's "Pavillon du Réalisme". He returned frequently to the French capital.
In 1867 Adolph Menzel was decorated with the "Cross of the Légion d'honneur" and awarded a meal for his painting of "Frederick and His Troops at the Battle of Hochkirch". In 1875 Menzel completed "Steel Rolling-Mill" (Nationalgalerie Berlin). The first comprehensive show of Menzel's work was mounted in 1884, followed by numerous shows in Germany and abroad. Menzel was an artist who had honor in his own country and abroad during his lifetime: on his seventieth birthday he was given an honorary doctorate from Berlin University. He was made an honorary citizen of the city of Breslau and an honorary member of the St Petersburg Academy. He was later made an honorary citizen of Berlin, given the title of Privy Councillor with the title "Your Excellency" and made a member of the Paris and London Academies.
The painter's brilliant career was crowned with the decoration of Knight of the Black Order and elevation to the German peerage. Adolph von Menzel died in Berlin in 1905.