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Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog

Chalk Cliffs on Rugen

Caspar David Friedrich

(1774 - 1840)

Caspar David Friedrich was born on September 5th, 1774. Though born in Pomerania on the Baltic, he was raised in Dresden, Germany, where he had a strict, Protestant upbringing. He belonged to the early nineteenth-century artistic movement called Romanticism which involved nature, nationalism and spirituality. His art was a perfect expression of this movement. Today, Friedrich is recognized as the classic Romantic painter.

At 13, Friedrich fell through the surface of a frozen lake and almost died. Luckily his brother saved his life but drowned in the process. Friedrich's mother died in 1781 and his sister ten years later. These experiences deeply affected Friedrich who was already sensitive in nature thus producing in him a lifelong obsession with death, God, and nature. He turned into a saddened and downhearted individual but yet still married at the age of forty despite all these tragedies in his life to a girl 22 years his junior. She bore him three children.

In his paintings Friedrich rarely draws people, except to emphasise nature's immensity. When figures appear in his paintings, they stand with their backs to the viewer, lost in thought. Friedrich is primarily a spiritual artist. His worship of nature finds expression in his paintings and symbolizes the artist’s protestant faith.

Some of Friedrich's best-known paintings are expressions of a religious mysticism. In 1808 he exhibited one of his most controversial paintings, “The Cross in the Mountains”, in which--for the first time in Christian art--an altarpiece was conceived in terms of a pure landscape. The cross, viewed obliquely from behind, is an insignificant element in the composition. More important are the dominant rays of the evening sun, which the artist said depicted the setting of the old, pre-Christian world. The mountain symbolizes an immovable faith, while the fir trees are an allegory of hope. Friedrich painted several other important compositions in which crosses dominate the background.

After studying in Copenhagen, Friedrich left his home, Greifswald, for Dresden, the art capital of Europe in the nineteenth century. He specialised in sepia, watercolours, and topographical drawings, turning to oils by 1808. In 1825, Friedrich suffered a severe illness from which he never fully recovered. A decade later, a stroke caused him to turn to watercolors and sepias of his youth because he was too weak to paint oils. Friedrich died on the 7th of May 1840, a bitter, impoverished and an unknown man in the art world.

Movements associated with Caspar David Friedrich:
Landscapes, Romanticism

Art prints by Caspar David Friedrich
Chalk Cliffs on Rugen Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog


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