Caspar David Friedrich
Born: Greifswald, Germany
“I have to stay alone in order to fully contemplate and feel nature.”
―Caspar David Friedrich
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Caspar David Friedrich changed the face of landscape paintings with his intense and emotional focus on nature, and became a key member of the Romantic Movement. As Romanticism called for, Friedrich demonstrated piety to God through nature, the diminished strength of man in the larger scale of life, and great emotion. Some of Friedrich’s best known works and most easily recognizable paintings include Cross in the Mountains (The Tetschen Altar), Wanderer above the Sea of Fog and Two Men Contemplating the Moon. In such paintings the artist’s mood and love of nature cannot go unnoticed.
To Friedrich, nature was not just a backdrop to fill the space behind portraits, for him nature itself took center stage. He sought the spirituality through the contemplation of nature, extending the bounds of trees, mountains, hills and crashing waves beyond just a beautiful view. They now had significant spiritual meaning. Sadly, Friedrich was, for the most part, misunderstood in his time. As an artist, he struggled to gain full comprehension from the public and critics of his time, but he continued to paint according to his own artistic convictions, not for approval. He experienced a significant amount of success during his high days, even being commissioned by the Russian royal family. Many critics attacked his work, unable to comprehend his allegorical references to Christ and God through landscape but he was only known to defend his work on one occasion.
Today, however, his work is regarded positively and he is recognized as the true innovator he was. He is remembered as one of, if not the greatest, German Romantic painters. Unlike most artists, Caspar David Friedrich took less inspiration for the great masters of art before him and paid more attention to the teachers of his formal education. Consequently, Friedrich had a truly unique style; he could transform landscapes from a mere forest to a wooded wonderland where each branch symbolized something greater, something deeper.
The trees were no longer just trees, but beautiful wooden creatures that represented the unwavering strength of Christ. The rays of the sun didn’t just serve to illuminate the ground but to show the light of the Holy Father. Unfortunately, Friedrich was largely misunderstood in his time and chose to paint for himself rather than to gain popularity. Artists of Friedrich’s time could not grasp such a suggestive concept and so his followers were few. He did, however, have a few loyal pupils but none that made a significant or memorable mark on the art world. Despite this, he had some admirers, including members of the Russian royal family.
Unfortunately, reception of Friedrich’s work continued to deteriorate as he aged. Eventually even his patrons lost interest in his work as Romanticism was being replaced with new, modern ideals. Friedrich died while his art was no longer wanted. Critics thought it too personal to understand, completely disregarding the fact that that was what made the work so original in the first place. Symbolist and Surrealist artists, however, took note of the allegorical meanings that saturated Friedrich’s canvases and both groups came to reference Friedrich as a great source of inspiration and foundation for their perspective movements.