-By William O'Connor
"The Abbey in the Oakwood"
1810, oil on canvas. National Gallery, Berlin
Any one who has been following my Artist of the Month series will notice a trend. Its something that I didn't notice it until I looked back over my blogs. A preference for landscapes. Corot, Keifer, Sloan, Hasui. I think this is because I so rarely get commissioned to do landscapes and I have a passion for the outdoors, hiking and all things that grow. When left to my own devices I prefer to paint landscapes either fantasy or plein aire. This leads me to the master landscape artist Caspar David Friedrich., (1774-1840).
There are so many excellent landscape painters in history, (Gainsborough, Turner, Rembrandt, Vermeer, et al.), but for me it is the Romantic overtones that makes Friedrich's work so powerful. These are not merely landscapes. In the tradition of other Romantic artists like Wordsworth, Keats and Beethoven, Friedrich's work does not extol the glory of the church, the greatness of his patrons or the virtuosic talent of the artist, he is illustrating the titanic power of nature and how minuscule we mere mortals are when confronted by it. Lonely and destitute penitents move like wraiths between the tombstones in the shadows of a once glorious cathedral ravished by the supreme power of Time. The lattice of windows is mundane in comparison to the shapes of the tree branches. The mightiest ships of the greatest empires are crushed like toys in the ragged jaws of ice flows. The spires of a church pale in comparison to the Divine beauty of nature's own spires.
Friedrich's compositions at once show us the beauty and devastating power of nature, the complex grace that can be discovered in a simple study of a tree, and our place in this Great Masterpiece.
Enjoy. (click on thumbnails for larger versions)
Listen to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (1801) for a better understanding of Friedrich.