Caspar David Friedrich (5 September 1774 – 7 May 1840) was a 19th-century German Romantic landscape painter, generally considered the most important German artist of his generation. He is best known for his mid-period allegorical landscapes which typically feature contemplative figures silhouetted against night skies, morning mists, barren trees or Gothic ruins. His primary interest was the contemplation of nature, and his often symbolic and anti-classical work seeks to convey a subjective, emotional response to the natural world. Friedrich's paintings characteristically set a human presence in diminished perspective amid expansive landscapes, reducing the figures to a scale that, according to the art historian Christopher John Murray, directs "the viewer's gaze towards their metaphysical dimension".
Friedrich was born in the town of Greifswald on the Baltic Sea in what was at the time Swedish Pomerania. He studied in Copenhagen until 1798, before settling in Dresden. He came of age during a period when, across Europe, a growing disillusionment with materialistic society was giving rise to a new appreciation of spirituality. This shift in ideals was often expressed through a reevaluation of the natural world, as artists such as Friedrich, J. M. W. Turner and John Constable sought to depict nature as a "divine creation, to be set against the artifice of human civilization".
Friedrich's work brought him renown early in his career, and contemporaries such as the French sculptor David d'Angers spoke of him as a man who had discovered "the tragedy of landscape". Nevertheless, his work fell from favour during his later years, and he died in obscurity. As Germany moved towards modernisation in the late 19th century, a new sense of urgency characterised its art, and Friedrich's contemplative depictions of stillness came to be seen as the products of a bygone age. The early 20th century brought a renewed appreciation of his work, beginning in 1906 with an exhibition of thirty-two of his paintings in Berlin. By the 1920s his paintings had been discovered by the Expressionists, and in the 1930s and early 1940s Surrealists and Existentialists frequently drew ideas from his work. The rise of Nazism in the early 1930s again saw a resurgence in Friedrich's popularity, but this was followed by a sharp decline as his paintings were, by association with the Nazi movement, interpreted as having a nationalistic aspect. It was not until the late 1970s that Friedrich regained his reputation as an icon of the German Romantic movement and a painter of international importance.
Caspar David Friedrich was born on 5 September 1774, in Greifswald, Swedish Pomerania, on the Baltic coast of Germany. The sixth of ten children, he was raised in the strict Lutheran creed of his father Adolf Gottlieb Friedrich, a candle-maker and soap boiler. Records of the family's financial circumstances are contradictory; while some sources indicate the children were privately tutored, others record that they were raised in relative poverty. He became familiar with death from an early age. His mother, Sophie, died in 1781 when he was seven. A year later, his sister Elisabeth died, and a second sister, Maria, succumbed to typhus in 1791. Arguably the greatest tragedy of his childhood happened in 1787 when his brother Johann Christoffer died: at the age of thirteen, Caspar David witnessed his younger brother fall through the ice of a frozen lake, and drown. Some accounts suggest that Johann Christoffer perished while trying to rescue Caspar David, who was also in danger on the ice.
Friedrich began his formal study of art in 1790 as a private student of artist Johann Gottfried Quistorp at the University of Greifswald in his home city, at which the art department is now named Caspar-David-Friedrich-Institut in his honour. Quistorp took his students on outdoor drawing excursions; as a result, Friedrich was encouraged to sketch from life at an early age. Through Quistorp, Friedrich met and was subsequently influenced by the theologian Ludwig Gotthard Kosegarten, who taught that nature was a revelation of God. Quistorp introduced Friedrich to the work of the German 17th-century artist Adam Elsheimer, whose works often included religious subjects dominated by landscape, and nocturnal subjects. During this period he also studied literature and aesthetics with Swedish professor Thomas Thorild. Four years later Friedrich entered the prestigious Academy of Copenhagen, where he began his education by making copies of casts from antique sculptures before proceeding to drawing from life. Living in Copenhagen afforded the young painter access to the Royal Picture Gallery's collection of 17th-century Dutch landscape painting. At the Academy he studied under teachers such as Christian August Lorentzen and the landscape painter Jens Juel. These artists were inspired by the Sturm und Drang movement and represented a midpoint between the dramatic intensity and expressive manner of the budding Romantic aesthetic and the waning neo-classical ideal. Mood was paramount, and influence was drawn from such sources as the Icelandic legend of Edda, the poems of Ossian and Norse mythology.
Friedrich settled permanently in Dresden in 1798. During this early period, he experimented in printmaking with etchings and designs for woodcuts which his furniture-maker brother cut. By 1804 he had produced 18 etchings and four woodcuts; they were apparently made in small numbers and only distributed to friends. Despite these forays into other media, he gravitated toward working primarily with ink, watercolour and sepias. With the exception of a few early pieces, such as Landscape with Temple in Ruins (1797), he did not work extensively with oils until his reputation was more established. Landscapes were his preferred subject, inspired by frequent trips, beginning in 1801, to the Baltic coast, Bohemia, the Krkonoše and the Harz Mountains. Mostly based on the landscapes of northern Germany, his paintings depict woods, hills, harbors, morning mists and other light effects based on a close observation of nature. These works were modeled on sketches and studies of scenic spots, such as the cliffs on Rügen, the surroundings of Dresden and the river Elbe. He executed his studies almost exclusively in pencil, even providing topographical information, yet the subtle atmospheric effects characteristic of Friedrich's mid-period paintings were rendered from memory. These effects took their strength from the depiction of light, and of the illumination of sun and moon on clouds and water: optical phenomena peculiar to the Baltic coast that had never before been painted with such an emphasis.
His reputation as an artist was established when he won a prize in 1805 at the Weimar competition organised by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. At the time, the Weimar competition tended to draw mediocre and now-forgotten artists presenting derivative mixtures of neo-classical and pseudo-Greek styles. The poor quality of the entries began to prove damaging to Goethe's reputation, so when Friedrich entered two sepia drawings—Procession at Dawn and Fisher-Folk by the Sea—the poet responded enthusiastically and wrote, "We must praise the artist's resourcefulness in this picture fairly. The drawing is well done, the procession is ingenious and appropriate... his treatment combines a great deal of firmness, diligence and neatness... the ingenious watercolour... is also worthy of praise."
Friedrich completed the first of his major paintings in 1808, at the age of 34. Cross in the Mountains, today known as the Tetschen Altar, is an altarpiece panel said to have been commissioned for a family chapel in Tetschen, Bohemia. The panel depicts a cross in profile at the top of a mountain, alone, and surrounded by pine trees. Controversially, for the first time in Christian art, an altarpiece had showcased a landscape. According to art historian Linda Siegel, Friedrich's design was the "logical climax of many earlier drawings of his which depicted a cross in nature's world."
Although the altarpiece was generally coldly received, it was Friedrich's first painting to receive wide publicity. The artist's friends publicly defended the work, while art critic Basilius von Ramdohr published a long article challenging Friedrich's use of landscape in a religious context. He rejected the idea that landscape painting could convey explicit meaning, writing that it would be "a veritable presumption, if landscape painting were to sneak into the church and creep onto the altar". Friedrich responded with a programme describing his intentions in 1809, comparing the rays of the evening sun to the light of the Holy Father. This statement marked the only time Friedrich recorded a detailed interpretation of his own work, and the painting was among the few commissions the artist ever received.
Following the purchase of two of his paintings by the Prussian Crown Prince, Friedrich was elected a member of the Berlin Academy in 1810. Yet in 1816, he sought to distance himself from Prussian authority and applied that June for Saxon citizenship. The move was not expected; the Saxon government was pro-French, while Friedrich's paintings were seen as generally patriotic and distinctly anti-French. Nevertheless, with the aid of his Dresden-based friend Graf Vitzthum von Eckstädt, Friedrich attained citizenship, and in 1818, membership in the Saxon Academy with a yearly dividend of 150 thalers. Although he had hoped to receive a full professorship, it was never awarded him as, according to the German Library of Information, "it was felt that his painting was too personal, his point of view too individual to serve as a fruitful example to students." Politics too may have played a role in stalling his career: Friedrich's decidedly Germanic subjects and costuming frequently clashed with the era's prevailing pro-French attitudes.
On 21 January 1818, Friedrich married Caroline Bommer, the twenty-five-year-old daughter of a dyer from Dresden. The couple had three children, with their first, Emma, arriving in 1820. Physiologist and painter Carl Gustav Carus notes in his biographical essays that marriage did not impact significantly on either Friedrich's life or personality, yet his canvasses from this period, including Chalk Cliffs on Rügen—painted after his honeymoon—display a new sense of levity, while his palette is brighter and less austere. Human figures appear with increasing frequency in the paintings of this period, which Siegel interprets as a reflection that "the importance of human life, particularly his family, now occupies his thoughts more and more, and his friends, his wife, and his townspeople appear as frequent subjects in his art."
Around this time, he found support from two sources in Russia. In 1820, the Grand Duke Nikolai Pavlovich, at the behest of his wife Alexandra Feodorovna, visited Friedrich's studio and returned to Saint Petersburg with a number of his paintings, an exchange that began a patronage that continued for many years. Not long thereafter, the poet Vasily Zhukovsky, tutor to Alexander II, met Friedrich in 1821 and found in him a kindred spirit. For decades Zhukovsky helped Friedrich both by purchasing his work himself and by recommending his art to the royal family; his assistance toward the end of Friedrich's career proved invaluable to the ailing and impoverished artist. Zhukovsky remarked that his friend's paintings "please us by their precision, each of them awakening a memory in our mind."
Friedrich was acquainted with Philipp Otto Runge, another leading German painter of the Romantic period. He was also a friend of Georg Friedrich Kersting, and painted him at work in his unadorned studio, and of the Norwegian painter Johan Christian Clausen Dahl (1788–1857). Dahl was close to Friedrich during the artist's final years, and he expressed dismay that to the art-buying public, Friedrich's pictures were only "curiosities". While the poet Zhukovsky appreciated Friedrich's psychological themes, Dahl praised the descriptive quality of Friedrich's landscapes, commenting that "artists and connoisseurs saw in Friedrich's art only a kind of mystic, because they themselves were only looking out for the mystic... They did not see Friedrich's faithful and conscientious study of nature in everything he represented".
During this period Friedrich frequently sketched memorial monuments and sculptures for mausoleums, reflecting his obsession with death and the afterlife; he even created designs for some of the funerary art in Dresden's cemeteries. Some of these works were lost in the fire that destroyed Munich's Glass Palace (1931) and later in the 1945 bombing of Dresden.
Friedrich's reputation steadily declined over the final fifteen years of his life. As the ideals of early Romanticism passed from fashion, he came to be viewed as an eccentric and melancholy character, out of touch with the times. Gradually his patrons fell away. By 1820, he was living as a recluse and was described by friends as the "most solitary of the solitary". Towards the end of his life he lived in relative poverty. He became isolated and spent long periods of the day and night walking alone through woods and fields, often beginning his strolls before sunrise.
In June 1835, Friedrich suffered his first stroke, which left him with minor limb paralysis and greatly reduced his ability to paint. As a result, he was unable to work in oil; instead he was limited to watercolour, sepia and reworking older compositions.
Although his vision remained strong, he had lost the full strength of his hand. Yet he was able to produce a final 'black painting', Seashore by Moonlight (1835–36), described by Vaughan as the "darkest of all his shorelines, in which richness of tonality compensates for the lack of his former finesse".
Symbols of death appeared in his other work from this period. Soon after his stroke, the Russian royal family purchased a number of his earlier works, and the proceeds allowed him to travel to Teplitz—in today's Czech Republic—to recover.
During the mid-1830s, Friedrich began a series of portraits and he returned to observing himself in nature. As the art historian William Vaughan has observed, however, "He can see himself as a man greatly changed. He is no longer the upright, supportive figure that appeared in Two Men Contemplating the Moon in 1819. He is old and stiff... he moves with a stoop".
By 1838, he was capable only of working in a small format. He and his family were living in poverty and grew increasingly dependent for support on the charity of friends.
Friedrich died in Dresden on 7 May 1840, and was buried in Dresden's Trinitatis-Friedhof (Trinity Cemetery) east of the city centre (the entrance to which he had painted some 15 years earlier). The simple flat gravestone lies north-west of the central roundel within the main avenue.
By the time of his death, his reputation and fame were waning, and his passing was little noticed within the artistic community. His artwork had certainly been acknowledged during his lifetime, but not widely. While the close study of landscape and an emphasis on the spiritual elements of nature were commonplace in contemporary art, his work was too original and personal to be well understood. By 1838, his work no longer sold or received attention from critics; the Romantic movement had been moving away from the early idealism that the artist had helped found.
After his death, Carl Gustav Carus wrote a series of articles which paid tribute to Friedrich's transformation of the conventions of landscape painting. However, Carus' articles placed Friedrich firmly in his time, and did not place the artist within a continuing tradition. Only one of his paintings had been reproduced as a print, and that was produced in very few copies.
The visualisation and portrayal of landscape in an entirely new manner was Friedrich's key innovation. He sought not just to explore the blissful enjoyment of a beautiful view, as in the classic conception, but rather to examine an instant of sublimity, a reunion with the spiritual self through the contemplation of nature. Friedrich was instrumental in transforming landscape in art from a backdrop subordinated to human drama to a self-contained emotive subject. Friedrich's paintings commonly employed the Rückenfigur—a person seen from behind, contemplating the view. The viewer is encouraged to place himself in the position of the Rückenfigur, by which means he experiences the sublime potential of nature, understanding that the scene is as perceived and idealised by a human. Friedrich created the notion of a landscape full of romantic feeling—die romantische Stimmungslandschaft. His art details a wide range of geographical features, such as rock coasts, forests, and mountain scenes. He often used the landscape to express religious themes. During his time, most of the best-known paintings were viewed as expressions of a religious mysticism.
Friedrich said, "The artist should paint not only what he sees before him, but also what he sees within him. If, however, he sees nothing within him, then he should also refrain from painting that which he sees before him. Otherwise, his pictures will be like those folding screens behind which one expects to find only the sick or the dead." Expansive skies, storms, mist, forests, ruins and crosses bearing witness to the presence of God are frequent elements in Friedrich's landscapes. Though death finds symbolic expression in boats that move away from shore—a Charon-like motif—and in the poplar tree, it is referenced more directly in paintings like The Abbey in the Oakwood (1808–10), in which monks carry a coffin past an open grave, toward a cross, and through the portal of a church in ruins.
He was one of the first artists to portray winter landscapes in which the land is rendered as stark and dead. Friedrich's winter scenes are solemn and still—according to the art historian Hermann Beenken, Friedrich painted winter scenes in which "no man has yet set his foot. The theme of nearly all the older winter pictures had been less winter itself than life in winter. In the 16th and 17th centuries, it was thought impossible to leave out such motifs as the crowd of skaters, the wanderer... It was Friedrich who first felt the wholly detached and distinctive features of a natural life. Instead of many tones, he sought the one; and so, in his landscape, he subordinated the composite chord into one single basic note".
Bare oak trees and tree stumps, such as those in Raven Tree (c. 1822), Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon (c. 1824), and Willow Bush under a Setting Sun (c. 1835), are recurring elements of Friedrich's paintings, symbolizing death. Countering the sense of despair are Friedrich's symbols for redemption: the cross and the clearing sky promise eternal life, and the slender moon suggests hope and the growing closeness of Christ. In his paintings of the sea, anchors often appear on the shore, also indicating a spiritual hope. German literature scholar Alice Kuzniar finds in Friedrich's painting a temporality—an evocation of the passage of time—that is rarely highlighted in the visual arts. For example, in The Abbey in the Oakwood, the movement of the monks away from the open grave and toward the cross and the horizon imparts Friedrich's message that the final destination of man's life lies beyond the grave.
With dawn and dusk constituting prominent themes of his landscapes, Friedrich's own later years were characterized by a growing pessimism. His work becomes darker, revealing a fearsome monumentality. The Wreck of the Hope—also known as The Polar Sea or The Sea of Ice (1823–24)—perhaps best summarizes Friedrich's ideas and aims at this point, though in such a radical way that the painting was not well received. Completed in 1824, it depicted a grim subject, a shipwreck in the Arctic Ocean; "the image he produced, with its grinding slabs of travertine-colored floe ice chewing up a wooden ship, goes beyond documentary into allegory: the frail bark of human aspiration crushed by the world's immense and glacial indifference."
Friedrich's written commentary on aesthetics was limited to a collection of aphorisms set down in 1830, in which he explained the need for the artist to match natural observation with an introspective scrutiny of his own personality. His best-known remark advises the artist to "close your bodily eye so that you may see your picture first with the spiritual eye. Then bring to the light of day that which you have seen in the darkness so that it may react upon others from the outside inwards." He rejected the overreaching portrayals of nature in its "totality", as found in the work of contemporary painters like Adrian Ludwig Richter (1803–84) and Joseph Anton Koch (1768–1839).
Both Friedrich's life and art have at times been perceived by some to have been marked with an overwhelming sense of loneliness. Art historians and some of his contemporaries attribute such interpretations to the losses suffered during his youth to the bleak outlook of his adulthood, while Friedrich's pale and withdrawn appearance helped reinforce the popular notion of the "taciturn man from the North".
Friedrich suffered depressive episodes in 1799, 1803–1805, c.1813, in 1816 and between 1824 and 1826. There are noticeable thematic shifts in the works he produced during these episodes, which see the emergence of such motifs and symbols as vultures, owls, graveyards and ruins. From 1826 these motifs became a permanent feature of his output, while his use of color became more dark and muted. Carus wrote in 1929 that Friedrich "is surrounded by a thick, gloomy cloud of spiritual uncertainty", though the noted art historian and curator Hubertus Gassner disagrees with such notions, seeing in Friedrich's work a positive and life-affirming subtext inspired by Freemasonry and religion.
Reflecting Friedrich's patriotism and resentment during the 1813 French occupation of the dominion of Pomerania, motifs from German folklore became increasingly prominent in his work. An anti-French German nationalist, Friedrich used motifs from his native landscape to celebrate Germanic culture, customs and mythology. He was impressed by the anti-Napoleonic poetry of Ernst Moritz Arndt and Theodor Körner, and the patriotic literature of Adam Müller and Heinrich von Kleist. Moved by the deaths of three friends killed in battle against France, as well as by Kleist's 1808 drama Die Hermannsschlacht, Friedrich undertook a number of paintings in which he intended to convey political symbols solely by means of the landscape—a first in the history of art.
In Old Heroes' Graves (1812), a dilapidated monument inscribed "Arminius" invokes the Germanic chieftain, a symbol of nationalism, while the four tombs of fallen heroes are slightly ajar, freeing their spirits for eternity. Two French soldiers appear as small figures before a cave, lower and deep in a grotto surrounded by rock, as if farther from heaven. A second political painting, Fir Forest with the French Dragoon and the Raven (c. 1813), depicts a lost French soldier dwarfed by a dense forest, while on a tree stump a raven is perched—a prophet of doom, symbolizing the anticipated defeat of France.
Alongside other Romantic painters, Friedrich helped position landscape painting as a major genre within Western art. Of his contemporaries, Friedrich's style most influenced the painting of Johan Christian Dahl (1788–1857). Among later generations, Arnold Böcklin (1827–1901) was strongly influenced by his work, and the substantial presence of Friedrich's works in Russian collections influenced many Russian painters, in particular Arkhip Kuindzhi (c. 1842–1910) and Ivan Shishkin (1832–98). Friedrich's spirituality anticipated American painters such as Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847–1917), Ralph Blakelock (1847–1919), the painters of the Hudson River School and the New England Luminists.
At the turn of the 20th century, Friedrich was rediscovered by the Norwegian art historian Andreas Aubert (1851–1913), whose writing initiated modern Friedrich scholarship, and by the Symbolist painters, who valued his visionary and allegorical landscapes. The Norwegian Symbolist Edvard Munch (1863–1944) would have seen Friedrich's work during a visit to Berlin in the 1880s. Munch's 1899 print The Lonely Ones echoes Friedrich's Rückenfigur (back figure), although in Munch's work the focus has shifted away from the broad landscape and toward the sense of dislocation between the two melancholy figures in the foreground.
Friedrich's modern revival gained momentum in 1906, when thirty-two of his works were featured in an exhibition in Berlin of Romantic-era art. His landscapes exercised a strong influence on the work of German artist Max Ernst (1891–1976), and as a result other Surrealists came to view Friedrich as a precursor to their movement. In 1934, the Belgian painter René Magritte (1898–1967) paid tribute in his work The Human Condition, which directly echoes motifs from Friedrich's art in its questioning of perception and the role of the viewer. A few years later, the Surrealist journal Minotaure featured Friedrich in a 1939 article by critic Marie Landsberger, thereby exposing his work to a far wider circle of artists. The influence of The Wreck of Hope (or The Sea of Ice) is evident in the 1940–41 painting Totes Meer by Paul Nash (1889–1946), a fervent admirer of Ernst. Friedrich's work has been cited as an inspiration by other major 20th-century artists, including Mark Rothko (1903–1970), Gerhard Richter (b. 1932), Gotthard Graubner and Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945). Friedrich's Romantic paintings have also been singled out by writer Samuel Beckett (1906–89), who, standing before Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon, said "This was the source of Waiting for Godot, you know."
In his 1961 article "The Abstract Sublime", originally published in ARTnews, the art historian Robert Rosenblum drew comparisons between the Romantic landscape paintings of both Friedrich and Turner with the Abstract Expressionist paintings of Mark Rothko. Rosenblum specifically describes Friedrich's 1809 painting The Monk by the Sea, Turner's The Evening Star and Rothko's 1954 Light, Earth and Blue as revealing affinities of vision and feeling. According to Rosenblum, "Rothko, like Friedrich and Turner, places us on the threshold of those shapeless infinities discussed by the aestheticians of the Sublime. The tiny monk in the Friedrich and the fisher in the Turner establish a poignant contrast between the infinite vastness of a pantheistic God and the infinite smallness of His creatures. In the abstract language of Rothko, such literal detail—a bridge of empathy between the real spectator and the presentation of a transcendental landscape—is no longer necessary; we ourselves are the monk before the sea, standing silently and contemplatively before these huge and soundless pictures as if we were looking at a sunset or a moonlit night."
Until 1890, and especially after his friends had died, Friedrich's work lay in near-oblivion for decades. Yet, by 1890, the symbolism in his work began to ring true with the artistic mood of the day, especially in central Europe. However, despite a renewed interest and an acknowledgment of his originality, his lack of regard for "painterly effect" and thinly rendered surfaces jarred with the theories of the time.
During the 1930s, Friedrich's work was used in the promotion of Nazi ideology, which attempted to fit the Romantic artist within the nationalistic Blut und Boden. It took decades for Friedrich's reputation to recover from this association with Nazism. His reliance on symbolism and the fact that his work fell outside the narrow definitions of modernism contributed to his fall from favour. In 1949, art historian Kenneth Clark wrote that Friedrich "worked in the frigid technique of his time, which could hardly inspire a school of modern painting", and suggested that the artist was trying to express in painting what is best left to poetry. Clark's dismissal of Friedrich reflected the damage the artist's reputation sustained during the late 1930s.
Friedrich's reputation suffered further damage when his imagery was adopted by a number of Hollywood directors, such as Walt Disney, built on the work of such German cinema masters as Fritz Lang and F. W. Murnau, within the horror and fantasy genres. His rehabilitation was slow, but enhanced through the writings of such critics and scholars as Werner Hofmann, Helmut Börsch-Supan and Sigrid Hinz, who successfully rejected and rebutted the political associations ascribed to his work, and placed it within a purely art-historical context. By the 1970s, he was again being exhibited in major galleries across the world, as he found favour with a new generation of critics and art historians.
Today, his international reputation is well established. He is a national icon in his native Germany, and highly regarded by art historians and art connoisseurs across the Western World. He is generally viewed as a figure of great psychological complexity, and according to Vaughan, "a believer who struggled with doubt, a celebrator of beauty haunted by darkness. In the end, he transcends interpretation, reaching across cultures through the compelling appeal of his imagery. He has truly emerged as a butterfly—hopefully one that will never again disappear from our sight".
Friedrich was a prolific artist who produced more than 500 attributed works. In line with the Romantic ideals of his time, he intended his paintings to function as pure aesthetic statements, so he was cautious that the titles given to his work were not overly descriptive or evocative. It is likely that some of today's more literal titles, such as The Stages of Life, were not given by the artist himself, but were instead adopted during one of the revivals of interest in Friedrich. Complications arise when dating Friedrich's work, in part because he often did not directly name or date his canvases. He kept a carefully detailed notebook on his output, however, which has been used by scholars to tie paintings to their completion dates.
|Friedrich's The Lone Tree|
|Friedrich's Woman at a Window|
| Friedrich's A Walk at Dusk, |
all from Smarthistory
Cabin in the Snow or Cabin under Snow (German - Verschneite Hütte) is a painting by Caspar David Friedrich, first exhibited at the exhibition held by the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts, from which it was acquired by John I of Saxony.
The painting was acquired by Hugo Salm in 1924 and from at least 1933 it was in South America. It then came onto the Berlin art market and was bought by a private collector. In 1960 the Lottery Society of Berlin bought it for the Nationalgalerie, which has exhibited it in the Knobelsdorff wing of Schloss Charlottenburg (1986-2001) and in the Friedrich room of the Alte Nationalgalerie (since 2001).Cairn in Snow
Cairn in Snow, also known as Dolmen in the snow, (German: Hünengrab im Schnee, literally "Giant's grave in the snow") is a landscape painting by the German painter Caspar David Friedrich. Friedrich is noted for his landscapes depicting features such as trees or Gothic ruins, silhouetted against the sky or in morning mists. The painting depicts leafless trees in the winter snow, with the tops of two of the trees broken off and the third bent by the prevailing wind, giving the work a haunted, spectral air. It is a Romantic allegorical landscape, depicting a stone cairn or dolmen set amid three oak trees on a hilltop, with a contemplative melancholy mood. It was probably painted around 1807, making it among Friedrich's first oil paintings. It measures 61 by 80 centimetres (24 in × 31 in) and has been held by the Galerie Neue Meister in Dresden since 1905.
The main elements of the painting are taken from different locations in eastern Germany. The cairn is thought to be based on the Neolithic burial site at Großsteingrab Gützkow, near the town Gützkow in West Pomerania; the megalith was destroyed before 1818, but Friedrich had sketched it since at least 1802. Friedrich sketched the trees at Neubrandenburg, most clearly an 1807 sepia sketch Hünengrab am Meer ("Dolmen by the sea"). Similar oak trees reappear in several works by Friedrich, including Monk in the Snow (1808, also known as Winter), The Abbey in the Oakwood (1818), Monastery graveyard under snow (1818) and Oak tree in snow (1829). The hill is located near Wustrow. The painting also includes four ravens, two above the cairn, one to the right, and a fourth high in the tree to the right.
The painting alludes to Christian and pagan symbolism. Trees and forests were seen as symbols of life endurance, longevity, and immortality. Sacred groves, often a group of trees in ancient times, were associated with secrecy and initiation rites, and they were regarded as untouchable. The main trees depicted in this painting by Friedrich appear to have had most of their old branches chopped off. The three trees around the cairn recalls the three wooden crosses on Golgotha at the crucifixion of Jesus, and the stone chamber where Christ's body was entombed. The painting also alludes to the permanence of the ancient stone landmark, the strength of the oak tree to withstand the storm broken and bowed but not defeated, and the continuity of life in the middle of winter.
Art critics have interpreted the painting as a meditation on life and death, and on the political situation in Germany following the defeats of Prussia by Napoleon's French army at the twin battles of Jena and Auerstedt in 1806. Around the same times, Friedrich was working on his 1807 Tetschen Altar.
The painting was first owned by the Greifswald University professor Karl Schildener. It painting is described in 1828 in the Greifswald academical journal (II, 2, pp. 40–41). The work was sold at auction in Leipzig in 1845 and acquired by Friedrich's friend and fellow painter Johan Christian Dahl. Dahl imitated the work in his own painting, Megalithic Tomb in Winter. It was sold from the estate of Dahl's only surviving son, Johann Siegwald Dahl, and acquired by the Galerie Neue Meister in Dresden in 1905.Caspar David Friedrich in his Studio
Caspar David Friedrich in his Studio refers to two paintings by the German romantic artist Georg Friedrich Kersting of 1811 and 1819. Of these the 1819 version is the best known. In these two paintings Kersting depicted fellow German painter Caspar David Friedrich in his studio.Chalk Cliffs on Rügen
Chalk Cliffs on Rügen (German: Kreidefelsen auf Rügen) is an oil painting of circa 1818 by German Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich.List of works by Caspar David Friedrich
This is an incomplete list of works by the German Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840) by completion date where known. Friedrich was a prolific artist who produced over 500 attributed works; however, he is generally known for only a small number of works seen as emblems of Romanticism.In line with Romantic ideals of the time, Friedrich intended that his paintings would function visually only, and thus he was cautious that the titles given to his work were not overly descriptive or evocative. It is likely that some of today's relatively literal titles, such as The Stages of Life, were not given by the artist himself, but were instead adopted during one of the revivals of interest in the artist during the late 19th or early 20th century.Complications arise when dating Friedrich's work, mainly because he often did not directly name or date his canvases. However, he kept a carefully detailed notebook on his output, which has been used by scholars to tie paintings to their completion dates.Moonrise by the Sea
Moonrise by the Sea or Moonrise over the Sea (German: Mondaufgang am Meer) is an 1822 oil-on-canvas painting by German painter Caspar David Friedrich. The work depicts a romantic seascape.
Three young people, two women side by side and a man further back, are sitting on a large boulder by the sea, silhouetted against the sky as they watch the moon rising to the east above a band of clouds. In the distance are two sailing vessels, ghosting on a light breeze towards the spectators on the shore. The painting is probably a view of the Baltic Sea, near Friedrich's birthplace in Swedish Pomerania. It may be based on the beach at Stubbenkammer near Rügen.
The work was commissioned by banker and art collector Joachim Heinrich Wilhelm Wagener, together with a second work, The Lonely Tree (Der einsame Baum), to create a pair of "times of the day", depicting morning and evening landscape scenes, in a tradition of Claude Lorrain. It was completed before November 1822 and has been held by the Berlin National Gallery since 1861, donated by Wagener as part of its founding collection. It is now in the Alte Nationalgalerie of the Staatliche Museen in Berlin.
A similarly named but much larger painting from 1821 has been held by the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg since 1928, and was formerly in the Ropsha Palace, and had been hung in the drawing room of Grand Duke Michael Nikolaevich; it measures 137 × 170 centimetres (54 × 67 in).Morning on the Riesengebirge
Morning on the Riesengebirge (German - Morgen im Riesengebirge) is an 1810-1811 painting by Caspar David Friedrich of a scene on the Riesengebirge. It was exhibited at the Dresden Academy and then acquired in 1811 by Frederick William III of Prussia for Unter den Linden, his Berlin palace, where it remained until 1837, when it was moved to the Neue Palais in Potsdam.
From 1844 to 1865 it was exhibited in the Schloss Bellevue then later in the castle at Wiesbaden. After 1930 it was moved back to Berlin, where it was displayed in the Stadtschloss. In 1957 it was moved to Schloss Charlottenburg (with inventory number 6911 GK I) as the property of the Prussian State Museums (inventory number NG 10/85). It was moved to the former Romantic Art gallery in the Knobelsdorff wing of the Schloss in 1986 and since 2001 has hung in the room devoted to the artist in the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin.Mountain Landscape with Rainbow
Mountain Landscape with Rainbow (1809-10) (German: Gebirgslandschaft mit Regenbogen), is an oil painting by the German Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich. Like the Riesengebirge Landscape (1810) this painting was inspired by Friedrich's 1809 travels through Germany and along the shores of the Baltic Sea. The observation of nature in his travels allowed Friedrich to compose a landscape that is visionary rather than literal.In the foreground a wayfarer has stopped to rest. He turns his gaze to the background, where a black abyss opens up. In those depths a few mountains can be glimpsed. Above the landscape, a rainbow forms in the waning light.In Friedrich's oeuvre, paintings with a sharp contrast between the foreground and background are common, a separation symbolizing the spiritual and physical planes of existence. So it is in this painting: in the foreground the sun illuminates the foliage and the clothes of the traveller, and in contrast the darkness of night fills the rest of the image. The opposites of day and night, and of spirit and matter, are unified by a rainbow, which in the Genesis account of Noah's ark symbolized the covenant between God and humanity.The Abbey in the Oakwood
The Abbey in the Oakwood (German: Abtei im Eichwald) is an oil painting by Caspar David Friedrich. It was painted between 1809 and 1810 in Dresden and was first shown together with the painting The Monk by the Sea in the Prussian Academy of Arts exhibition of 1810. On Friedrich's request The Abbey in the Oakwood was hung beneath The Monk by the Sea. This painting is one of over two dozen of Friedrich's works that include cemeteries or graves.After the exhibition both pictures were bought by king Frederick Wilhelm III for his collection. Today the paintings hang side by side in the Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin.The Lonely Tree
The Lonely Tree (German: Der einsame Baum, sometimes translated as "The Solitary Tree") is an 1822 oil-on-canvas painting by German painter Caspar David Friedrich. It measures 55 × 71 centimetres (22 × 28 in). The work depicts a panoramic view of a romantic landscape of plains with mountains in the background. A solitary oak tree dominates the foreground.
An ancient oak stands at the centre of the painting, clearly damaged but still standing. The tree's branches, dark in silhouette, project into the largely overcast morning sky. Banks of cloud seem to form a dome above the tree. The crown of the tree is dead, and the top of its trunk and two truncated branches resemble a cross. A shepherd shelters under the leaf-bearing lower branches. His flock of sheep graze beside a pond in the wide grassy meadow around the tree. In the middle distance, villages and a town nestle among other trees and bushes. Tree-clad hills pile up into blue-grey mountains in the background.
The work was commissioned by banker and art collector Joachim Heinrich Wilhelm Wagener, together with a second painting Moonrise by the Sea (Mondaufgang am Meer) to create a pair of "times of the day", depicting morning and evening landscape scenes, in a tradition of Claude Lorrain. It was completed before November 1822 and has been held by the Berlin National Gallery since 1861, donated by Wagener as part of its founding collection. It is now in the Alte Nationalgalerie of the Staatliche Museen in Berlin.
Art historian Helmut Börsch-Supan has suggested that the mountains are in the Riesengebirge, now in the Czech Republic, which historically divided Silesia and Bohemia, southeast of Dresden, where Friedrich settled in 1798. Friedrich painted the mountains several times between 1806 and 1810. The double peak may be Jeschken.
The painting has drawn a number of interpretations. Ludwig Justi sees the old oak as a symbol of the German people, rooted in the landscape; Jens Christian Jensen sees it as a link between the past and the present; and Charlotte Margarethe de Prybram-Gladona sees it as a symbol of loneliness.The Sea of Ice
The Sea of Ice (German: Das Eismeer), also called The Wreck of Hope (German: Die gescheiterte Hoffnung) is an oil painting of 1823–1824 by the German Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich.The Stages of Life
The Stages of Life (German: Die Lebensstufen) is an allegorical oil painting of 1835 by the German Romantic landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich. Completed just five years before his death, this picture, like many of his works, forms a meditation both on his own mortality and on the transience of life.
The painting is set on a sea shore and shows in the foreground an aged man with his back turned to the viewer, walking towards two adults and two children on a hilltop overlooking a harbour. The figures are echoed by five ships shown in the harbour, each at a different distance from the shore, an allegorical reference to the different stages of human life, to the end of a journey, to the closeness of death.
The figures have been identified as Friedrich and his family. The aged man is the artist himself, the small boy is his young son Gustav Adolf, the young girl is his daughter Agnes Adelheid, the older girl is his daughter Emma, and the man in the top hat is his nephew Johann Heinrich.Although many of Friedrich's paintings were set in imagined landscapes, The Stages of Life is recognisably located at Utkiek, near Friedrich's birthplace of Greifswald in today's northeastern Germany.The Tree of Crows
The Tree of Crows (also known as Raven Tree) is an oil painting of 1822 by the German Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich. Acquired by the Musée du Louvre in 1975, it has been called one of Friedrich's "most compelling paintings."The painting depicts a twisted oak tree, bare but for a few dead leaves, seen against an evening sky. An inscription on the back of the canvas refers to the hill at the painting's center as a Hünengrab, or dolmen, a prehistoric burial ground. In the distance can be seen the ocean, and Cape Arkona's chalk cliffs, a favorite subject of Friedrich's. Two crows are perched on the oak, while a flock (also known, more correctly, as a "murder") descends toward it. In the darkened foreground are a hacked trunk and the upright stump of another oak.
The oak is based on a drawing dated 3 May 1809, to which Friedrich added branches at the left and elongated others so as to stretch its forms across the picture plane; the tree in the painting has the overall shape of a rhombus, its web of contorted branches taking on a dramatic presence. Contrasted with the serene layers of chromatic clouds, the tree's forms have been likened to "many flailing arms." The foreground may be seen as representing death, with the distant sky offering consoling beauty and the promise of redemption after life.A single dominant oak was also the subject of two later vertical compositions painted by Friedrich. In those paintings the trees appear to stand in resignation, whereas that of The Tree of Crows seems animated by desperation.The Watzmann
The Watzmann (German - Der Watzmann) is an 1824-1825 oil on canvas painting by Caspar David Friedrich, showing the Watzmann mountain as seen from Berchtesgaden to the north-east. It is now on display in the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin.
It was acquired in 1832 by senator Carl Friedrich Pogge von Greifswald, then later by Adolf Gustav Barthold Georg von Pressentin (1814–1879), who lived in Rostock. After von Pressentin's death it was acquired by Martin Brunn, a Jewish art collector who lived in Berlin. Nazi racial laws forced him to flee Germany and he sold it to the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin in 1937 for 25,000 reichsmarks to fund his family's escape to the USA. Hoping to display it in the Berghof, his home at Berchtesgaden, Adolf Hitler granted 10,000 reichsmarks towards the purchase price, but the state considered the painting to be part of the 'Jewish Property Tax' or 'Judenvermögensabgabe'. In 2002 the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and Brunn's heirs negotiated a compromise, whereby the DekaBank was allowed to buy the painting from his heirs for less than its market value (with the Kulturstiftung der Länder as an intermediary) and then place it back in the Nationalgalerie as a long-term loan.Two Men Contemplating the Moon
Two Men Contemplating the Moon (German: Zwei Männer in Betrachtung des Mondes) and Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon are a series of similar paintings by Caspar David Friedrich, the setting being among his best-known works. Friedrich painted at least three versions, with one variation featuring a man and a woman. The 1819–20 version in the Galerie Neue Meister is thought to be the original; the c. 1824 variant with a woman is in the Alte Nationalgalerie; and the c. 1830 version is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
These German Romantic landscape paintings feature two figures in a dark forest silhouetted by a pastel sky. The works' dark foregrounds and lighter backgrounds create a sharp contrast. The sky suggests that the time is around dusk, with the waxing crescent moon close to setting. A dead, uprooted tree's dark roots and branches contrast with the sky. The jagged branches and stark contrasts seem to create a threatening environment for the figures, and are reminiscent of the imposing Gothic style seen originally in the medieval era, but revived in the Romantic era. The same can be said of the dark, shadowy trees and rocks surrounding the couple. The figures themselves are dressed in dark colors and stiff, somewhat formal garments, which also serve to signify their higher class. The works emphasize spirituality in nature and the presence of the sublime, which are major themes of Friedrich.
Playwright Samuel Beckett, standing before Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon, said "This was the source of Waiting for Godot, you know."Two Men by the Sea
Two Men by the Sea (German - Zwei Männer am Meer) is a painting by Caspar David Friedrich, first exhibited at the exhibition held by the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts in 1817, from which it was acquired a representative of mother superior Maria Richter of Berlin. It first appears in the inventories of the Nationalgalerie in 1936 as number A II 884 (or NG H 5). It was displayed at the Schloss Charlottenburg until 1967 and from 1986 to 2001 it was hung in the Schloss' Knobelsdorff wing. Since 2001 it has been displayed in the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin.Wanderer above the Sea of Fog
Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (German: Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer), also known as Wanderer above the Mist or Mountaineer in a Misty Landscape, is an oil painting c. 1818 by the German Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich. It has been considered one of the masterpieces of Romanticism and one of its most representative works. It currently resides in the Kunsthalle Hamburg in Hamburg, Germany.Woman at a Window
Woman at a Window is an oil painting of 1822 by the German Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich. This painting is currently located in Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin.Woman with a Raven at an Abyss
Woman with a Raven at an Abyss (or Woman with a Raven on a Precipice; German: Die Frau mit dem Raben am Abgrund) is a c. 1803/04 print by the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, made into a woodcut by his brother Christian Friedrich, a carpenter and furniture maker, around the same time.
The images evokes themes of loss, abandonment, loneliness, the shortness of life, and death. To achieve this effect, Fredrick employs nightmarish imagery, including a gothic wood of barren trees whose branches appear as if the arms of the dead, a single vulturous raven, drawn in an almost childlike manner that recalls fairy tale illustrations.
Caspar David Friedrich