Caspar David Friedrich  

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Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818) by Caspar David Friedrich
Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818) by Caspar David Friedrich
Der Abend (1820) by Caspar David Friedrich
Der Abend (1820) by Caspar David Friedrich
The Polar Sea (The destroyed hope) (1824)  by Caspar David Friedrich
The Polar Sea (The destroyed hope) (1824) by Caspar David Friedrich

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Caspar David Friedrich (September 5, 1774May 7, 1840) was a 19th century German painter, known for such paintings as Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818).



Following his earlier sepia drawings and watercolors (mainly naturalistic and topographical), Friedrich took up oil painting sometime after the age of thirty. His paintings were modeled on his sketches and studies of scenic spots, like the cliffs on Rügen, the surroundings of Dresden or Elbe. Later compositions were more symbolic and symmetrically balanced. The Tetschen Altar is perhaps his first stylistically mature painting. It depicts the crucified Christ in profile at the top of a mountain, alone, surrounded by nature. At his time this work was not unanimously accepted; however, this was his first appraised painting. His well-known, especially Romantic painting Wanderer above the Sea of Fog impressed Karl Friedrich Schinkel (later Prussia's most famous classicist architect) so much that he gave up painting and took up architecture.

Friedrich was almost forgotten by the general public in the second half of 19th century, and it was only at turn of the century that he was rediscovered by the Symbolist painters, who valued his visionary and allegorical landscapes. It was this aspect of his work that caused Max Ernst and other Surrealists to see him as a precursor to their movement. Friedrich sketched memorial monuments and sculptures for mausoleums, reflecting his obsession with death and the afterlife. Some of the funereal art in Dresden's cemeteries is his. Some of his masterpieces were lost in the fire that destroyed Munich's Glass Palace (1931) and in the bombing of Dresden in World War II.

Philosophy and motives

The key to understanding Friedrich's ideas and work is the link between landscape and religion. The majority of his best-known paintings are expressions of a religious mysticism. His landscapes seek not just the blissful enjoyment of a beautiful view, as in the Classic conception, but an instant of sublimity, a reunion with the spiritual self through the lonely contemplation of an overwhelming Nature. Friedrich said, "The painter should paint not only what he has in front of him, but also what he sees inside himself. If he sees nothing within, then he should stop painting what is in front of him." Colossal skies, storms, mist, ruins, scattered tracks of life (ancient altars, wrecked ships) and crosses bearing witness to the presence of God are frequent elements in Friedrich's landscapes.

Even some of his apparently non-symbolic paintings contain inner meanings, either religious or political, clues to which are provided either by Friedrich's writings or those of his literary friends. For example, a landscape showing a ruined abbey in the snow, Abbey under Oak Trees (1810; Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin), can be appreciated on one level as a bleak, winter scene, but was also intended to represent both the church shaken by the Reformation and the transience of earthly things.


Alongside other romantic painters, such as J. M. W. Turner or John Constable, Friedrich made landscape painting a major genre in Western art. Friedrich's style influenced the painting of the aforementioned Dahl, but whether the successors to his painting style achieved his mastery and depth is debated. Arnold Böcklin was strongly influenced by his work, and perhaps as well the painters of the American Hudson River School, the Rocky Mountain School, the New England Luminists and American painters like Albert Pinkham Ryder and Ralph Blakelock.

Selected works

See also

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