GREAT ART OF THE WORLD:

CASPAR DAVID FRIEDRICH


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Dear Friends,

True to our modus operandi, this time I have chosen a relatively unknown German painter, Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), to represent the huge literary, artistic, philosophical and musical movement that flourished in Europe between the middle of the 18th and 19th centuries: Romanticism. My reasons include the fact that I could not think of an artwork - actually a master piece - that better depicts the Romantic view and goals than his precious painting, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818, see below). In it, the wandering character (the artist himself, who self-portrayed in this picture) invites the viewer to look at the world through the lens of his own perception. It is not exaggerated to regard this painting as the essence of the romantic approach to art.

Unlike other great artists featured in this forum, Caspar David Friedrich did not produce many works. However, this time my intention has been to portrait an artistic (and beyond that, an intellectual) movement rather than feature any given artist. To widen this view of the movement as regards, specifically, art, please take into account that this movement included in his ranks great, better known artists such as William Turner and John Constable in England, Francisco de Goya in Spain, Théodore Géricault and Eugéne Delacroix in France, and many more, most of whom did produce a vast number of master pieces. However, this does not mean that a number of other master works by Caspar David Friedrich will not appear in the course of this thread.


Thank you,

Luis Miguel Goitizolo
 


GREAT MASTERS OF  PAINTING

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1)
By Caspar David Drietrich

(born Sept. 5, 1774, Greifswald, Pomerania [Germany]
died May 7, 1840, Dresden)

 

Technical data (2)

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog
Oil on canvas
1818
74.8 x 94 cm
(29.45" x 3' 1.01")
Kunsthalle (Hamburg, Germany)
Added: 2001-10-14 00:00:00


Profile (3)

Caspar David Friedrich, (born Sept. 5, 1774, Greifswald, Pomerania [Germany]—died May 7, 1840, Dresden, Saxony), pioneer early 19th-century German Romantic painter. His vast, mysterious landscapes and seascapes proclaimed man’s helplessness against the forces of nature and did much to establish the idea of the sublime as central concerns of the Romantic movement.

 

Friedrich studied from 1794 to 1798 at the academy at Copenhagen but was largely self-taught. Settling at Dresden, he became a member of an artistic and literary circle that included the painter Philipp Otto Runge and the writers Ludwig Tieck and Novalis. His drawings in sepia, executed in his neat early style, won the poet J.W. von Goethe’s approval and a prize from the Weimar Art Society in 1805. His first important oil painting, “The Cross in the Mountains” (c. 1807), established his mature style, characterized by an overwhelming sense of isolation, and was an attempt to replace the traditional symbology of religious painting with one drawn from nature. Other symbolic landscapes, such as “Shipwreck in the Ice” (1822), reveal his fatalism and obsession with death. Though based on close observation of nature, his works were coloured by his imaginative response to the atmosphere of the Baltic coast and the Harz Mountains, which he found both awesome and ominous. In 1824 he was made professor of the Dresden academy. For a long time his work was forgotten; but it was revived when the 20th century recognized its own existential isolation in his work.

* * *

Caspar David Friedrich was an outstanding 19th-century German romantic painter whose awesome landscapes and seascapes are not only meticulous observations of nature but are also allegories.

Friedrich was born on September 5, 1774, in Greifswald and studied at the Copenhagen Academy. In 1798 he settled in Dresden, where he became a member of an artistic and literary circle imbued with the ideals of the romantic movement. His early drawings—precisely outlined in pencil or sepia—explored motifs recurrent throughout his work: rocky beaches, flat, barren plains, infinite mountain ranges, and trees reaching toward the sky. Later, his work began to reflect more of his emotional response to natural scenery.

He began to paint in oils in 1807; one of his first canvases, The Cross in the Mountains (1807?, Staatliche Kunstsamm-lungen, Dresden), is representative of his mature style. A bold break from traditional religious painting, this work is almost pure landscape; the figure of the crucified Christ, seen from behind and silhouetted against a mountain sunset, is almost lost in the natural setting. According to Friedrich's own writings, all the elements in the composition have symbolic meanings. The mountains are allegories of faith; the rays of the setting sun symbolize the end of the pre-Christian world; and the fir trees stand for hope. Friedrich's cold, acid colors, clear lighting, and sharp contours heighten the feeling of melancholy, isolation, and human powerlessness against the ominous forces of nature expressed in his paintings. As a faculty member of the Dresden Academy, Friedrich influenced later German romantic painters. Although his reputation declined after his death, 20th-century viewers are fascinated by his imagery.

 

(1) This image is a courtesy of the Art Renewal Center.

(2) Art Renewal Center.

(3) Encyclopedia Britannica, GFA. 

 

 The Stages of Life, circa 1835
The Stages of Life, circa 1835
Friedrich, Caspar...
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 The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, 1818
The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, 1818
Friedrich, Caspar...
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