Wanderer above the Sea of Fog

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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,[1] is an oil painting c. 1818[2] 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.

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog
Caspar David Friedrich - Wanderer above the sea of fog
Artist Caspar David Friedrich
Year c. 1819
Medium Oil-on-canvas
Dimensions 98.4 cm × 74.8 cm (37.3 in × 29.4 in)
Location Kunsthalle Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany


In the foreground, a young man stands upon a rocky precipice with his back to the viewer. He is wrapped in a dark green overcoat, and grips a walking stick in his right hand.[3] His hair caught in a wind, the wanderer gazes out on a landscape covered in a thick sea of fog. In the middle ground, several other ridges, perhaps not unlike the ones the wanderer himself stands upon, jut out from the mass.[4] Through the wreaths of fog, forests of trees can be perceived atop these escarpments. In the far distance, faded mountains rise in the left, gently leveling off into lowland plains in the east. Beyond here, the pervading fog stretches out indefinitely, eventually commingling with the horizon and becoming indistinguishable from the cloud-filled sky.[3]

The painting is composed of various elements from the Elbe Sandstone Mountains in Saxony and Bohemia, sketched in the field but in accordance with his usual practice, rearranged by Friedrich himself in the studio for the painting. In the background to the right is the Zirkelstein. The mountain in the background to the left could be either the Rosenberg or the Kaltenberg. The group of rocks in front of it represent the Gamrig near Rathen. The rocks on which the traveler stands are a group on the Kaiserkrone.[5]


Wanderer above the Sea of Fog is true to the Romantic style and Friedrich's style in particular,[6] being similar to other works such as Chalk Cliffs on Rügen and The Sea of Ice. Gorra's (2004) analysis was that the message conveyed by the painting is one of Kantian self-reflection, expressed through the wanderer's gazings into the murkiness of the sea of fog.[4] Dembo (2001) sympathised, asserting that Wanderer presents a metaphor for the unknown future.[7] Gaddis (2004) felt that the impression the wanderer's position atop the precipice and before the twisted outlook leaves "is contradictory, suggesting at once mastery over a landscape and the insignificance of the individual within it".[3]

Some meaning of this work is lost in the translation of its title. In German, the title is "Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer". Wanderer in German can mean either "wanderer" or "hiker".[8]

Robert Macfarlane discusses the painting in terms of its significant influence on how mountain climbing has been viewed in the Western world since the Romantic era, calling it the "archetypical image of the mountain-climbing visionary", and describing its power in representing the concept that standing on mountain tops is something to be admired, an idea which barely existed in earlier centuries.[9]


The painting has been reused repeatedly, for instance to promote a Canadian musical.[10] It was used as the cover of the board game Fantastiqa.[11] A painting using the same man with his back turned, titled "Wanderer" appears within the computer game Minecraft.[12] The title of the painting is the name of a song in Wolves in the Throne Room's 2009 album Black Cascade. From the 1960s on, Gotthard Graubner's "fog spaces", one of them entitled Erster Nebelraum - Hommage à Caspar David Friedrich (1968) were clearly inspired by Friedrich's Wanderer above the Sea of Fog.[13] In 2008, the painting was used as inspiration for the promotional image of David Tennant as Hamlet at the RSC.[14] The German tenor, Jonas Kaufmann, uses this painting on his Decca CD of Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, Wagner arias. He is pictured face forward replacing the back view of the "Wanderer". The painting is also used on the cover of the Thus Spoke Zarathustra Barnes and Noble Classics edition and on the cover of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (Dover Thrift Edition).[15][16] It is used on the jacket cover of John Crowley's novel Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land. The painting is also used on the cover of Acting on Principle Cambridge University Press on Kantian ethics.[17] The painting was used as a cover for Jason Brook's book published in 2006, A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler.[18] Canadian musician Ben Caplan references the painting on the cover of his album Birds With Broken Wings featuring a pastiche of Caplan as the wanderer from a different perspective.[19] The painting is on the Deutsche Grammophon cover of the Maurizio Pollini recording of the Schubert Wanderer Fantasy and Sonata in A Minor D 845, catalogue number 2465220. Orig Year 4/1/1987 Discs 1 Recording Time 58 minutes

This particular painting was also used for the back cover to the 1985 album The Confessor by former Eagles guitarist/singer Joe Walsh.

A replica of the painting is used on stage by comedian Stewart Lee in his Content Provider tour of 2016-18.


  1. ^ Arts Council of Great Britain (1959). "The romantic movement. Fifth exhibition to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Council of Europe, 10 July to 27 September 1959, the Tate Gallery and the Arts Council Gallery, London". Hathi Trust.
  2. ^ Exhibition Catalogue: Caspar David Friedrich. Die Underling der Romantic in Essen ind Hamburg, Firmer Verlag, München (December 2006), page 267
  3. ^ a b c Gaddis, John Lewis (2004). The Landscape of History. Oxford University Press US. pp. 1–2. ISBN 0-19-517157-8.
  4. ^ a b Gorra, Michael Edward (2004). The Bells in Their Silence. Princeton University Press. pp. xi–xii. ISBN 0-691-11765-9.
  5. ^ K.-L. Hoch: Caspar David Friedrich und die böhmischen Berge. Dresden 1987
  6. ^ Gunderson, Jessica (2008). Romanticism. The Creative Company. p. 7. ISBN 1-58341-613-7.
  7. ^ Dembo, Ron S.; Andrew Freeman (2001). The Rules of Risk. John Wiley and Sons. p. 10. ISBN 0-471-40163-3.
  8. ^ Black, Joseph (2010), The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: The Age of Romanticism, Broadview Press, ISBN 978-1-55111-404-0, retrieved 2011-10-02
  9. ^ Macfarlane, Robert (2003). Mountains of the Mind. Granta Books. p. 157. ISBN 9781847080394.
  10. ^ "Tristan > Shaw Festival Cast : CastAlbums.org". castalbums.org.
  11. ^ "Fantastiqa - a new game from Gryphon Games". fantastiqa.com.
  12. ^ "Painting". gamepedia.com. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
  13. ^ Amine Haase, Andreas Vowinckel and Stephan von Wiese, Michael Buthe & Marcel Odenbach, exh. cat., Walter Phillips Gallery, 22 September–October 16, 1983, p. 3.
  14. ^ "David Tennant in Hamlet". Flickr.
  15. ^ "Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)". Barnes & Noble. 27 June 2007.
  16. ^ "Frankenstein". Dover Publications. 2003. Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  17. ^ O'Neill, Onora (January 2014). "Acting on Principle An Essay on Kantian Ethics". Cambridge University Press.
  18. ^ https://www.thriftbooks.com/w/a-sense-of-the-world-how-a-blind-man-became-historys-greatest-traveler_jason-roberts/485762/?mkwid=sR9U2z4ud%7cdc&pcrid=70112890512&pkw=&pmt=&plc=&gclid=CjwKCAiAweXTBRAhEiwAmb3Xu3bwPDbxxwH9jd8VowwB0BYGxTG4xaqUaEtbCUYikVqmtx3QBuBBQhoCvLcQAvD_BwE#isbn=0007161069&idiq=106564. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  19. ^ "Ben Caplan". pledgemusic.com.

External links

  • 'Wanderer above the Sea of Fog' Analysis
  • Sketches for the painting (in German)
  • Idrobo, Carlos (2012), He Who Is Leaving … The Figure of the Wanderer in Nietzsche’s Also sprach Zarathustra and Caspar David Friedrich’s Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer, in: Nietzsche-Studien Band 41, Heft 1, Seiten 78–103, ISSN (Online) 1613-0790, ISSN (Print) 0342-1422, DOI: 10.1515/niet.2012.41.1.78, November 2012. degruyter.com

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