Saturday, July 13, 2013

Artist of the Month: Friedrich

-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.


  1. I know it's of my own reading, but I've always loved the narrative power of Freidrich. Trees, old buildings, and icebergs often seem like players in a grand story.

  2. I will always love Caspar David Friedrich

    "I have to stay alone in order to fully contemplate and feel nature."

  3. Nature – The Big Ambivalence…
    Caspar David Friedrich and Beethoven, excellent combination, William!

  4. Beautiful music to introduce a painter I have never seen before. I was momentarily overcome by emotion on hearing the first notes while looking at these paintings. His work seems quite modern.

  5. Friedrich has long been a favorite. To me, his works have always symbolized the impermanence of man before the power of nature, and the grandiose design in the world around us if we just take a moment to immerse ourselves in it.

  6. Must say this is very good and I love how he captures the mood/atmosphere in is works. I'll have to go search for more of his works and his bio. Thanks for sharing.

  7. The first time I heard Moonlight Sonata as a young man I cried. Friedrich and Beethoven are both Romantic German artists working at the same time towards the same ideals. One really compliments the others. I recommend reading Wordsworth and Keats as well to get even deeper into the Romantic Zeitgeist.

  8. One of my all time favorites. Friedrich is one of the best examples I can think of where just one painting can give us an entire lifetime. A visual sliver with branches stretching either way... or something... I just really like me some Friedrich :) Thanks for posting this.

  9. I always go nuts whenever I see an old painting that it is so ahead of its time. His stuff seems so cutting edge now even if compared to some of today's concept art.

    I don't admit to understand a lot of the AoTM that you featured but at least this one I can appreciate at the most elementary level. Thanks William for the sharing!

    1. 200 years later and I think they are as powerful as when he painted them....

      Thanks. WOC

  10. Love that Friedrich. His 'Wreck in a Sea of Ice' is part of the inspiration for a project I am working on: James Gardner Art


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