Caspar David Friedrich was a Romantic painter known for landscape painting. In the 19th century, landscape painting became popular and its own “independent and respected genre” as a source of allegory and in response to the popularity of growing tourism (Kleiner 770).
Friedrich is a well-known German painter of landscapes. Common elements in his landscape paintings include ruins of Gothic churches; expansive landscapes; and if present, smaller figures, often with their back to the viewer and looking out into the landscape, contemplating nature (Kleiner 771). Friedrich’s paintings, in line with Romanticism, express emotions, whether it is the somber tone of Abbey in the Oaky Forest or the “almost religious awe at the beauty and vastness of the natural world” (Kleiner 771). Friedrich’s overarching theme in his work was the emotional response to nature.
I have had the excellent opportunity to visit the Nationalgalerie in Berlin where I saw many of Friedrich’s works in person. During my visit, I learned that Friedrich loved to paint abbeys in ruins to express the grandeur of gothic medieval architecture. It is also a trait of Romanticism to remember the old days of glory. The moon showed up in his work, as well, symbolizing contemplation (Alte Nationalgalerie).
Another one of Friedrich’s paintings surprised me; he painted the Bavarian Alps, but never actually visited them himself. Instead, he studied paintings of other artists and painted from that. (Alte Nationalgalerie).
Later on, reflecting on Caspar David Friedrich and what I read about Realism, I was struck by the difference in the art movements. Realism is so exact, focusing on painting the “here and now” and what could actually be seen at that time, in line with empiricism and positivism. It is a response to Romanticism, which focuses on emotion and has no problem returning to medieval subjects or creating a landscape with imagined elements. A Realist would take issue with Friedrich painting his subjective version of the Alps when he had never seen them himself. That also led me to think about art and literature. It is interesting to see the many movements or genres come into existence because they are in response to, or a criticism of, a prior movement.
Alte Nationalgalerie, Stattliche Museen zu Berlin. “Caspar David Friedrich.” Berlin: Alte Nationalgalerie. Various plaques in the exhibit. Visited August 2013.
Kleiner, Fred S. Gardner’s Art through the Ages: a Global History. Vol. 2. 14th ed. [Australia]: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2013.
Also, here is my disclaimer: the following is copyright 2013 by Around the Wherever.