Caspar David Friedrich

Eumenis Megalopoulos | Feb 7, 2024

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Caspar David Friedrich († May 7, 1840 in Dresden, Kingdom of Saxony) was a German painter, graphic artist and draftsman. Today he is considered one of the most important artists of the German early Romanticism. He made an original contribution to modern art with his constructed pictorial inventions focused on the aesthetics of effect, which contradicted common notions of Romantic painting as a sentimental art of expression. Friedrich's major works represent a revolutionary break with the landscape painting traditions of the Baroque and Classicism. The canon of themes and motifs in these paintings unites landscape and religion, preferably to allegories of loneliness, death, ideas of the afterlife and hopes of redemption. Friedrich's world and self-image, characterized by melancholy, is seen as exemplary for the artist's image in the Romantic era. With his works, the painter makes offers open to meaning in largely unknown pictorial contexts, which involve the viewer with his addressed emotional world in the process of interpretation. Since the rediscovery of Friedrich at the beginning of the 20th century, the openness to meaning of the paintings has led to a multitude of often fundamentally different interpretations as well as to the formation of theories from the perspectives of art history, philosophy, literature, psychology, or theology.

Origin and youth

Caspar David Friedrich was born in 1774 as the sixth of ten children of the tallow soap boiler and tallow candle maker Adolph Gottlieb Friedrich and his wife, Sophie Dorothea, née Bechly, in the port city of Greifswald, which belonged to Swedish Pomerania. As a resident of a Swedish province that was also a German duchy, he did not have Swedish citizenship. Both parents came from the Mecklenburg town of Neubrandenburg and, like their ancestors, were craftsmen. Traditions, according to which the families should have originated from a Silesian count family, cannot be proven. It is possible that the relatives were embarrassed by the painter's origins, since "soap boiler" was a swear word in Neubrandenburg for a particularly uncultured person.

Caspar David grew up in his Greifswald home at Lange Gasse 28. After the early death of his mother, his sister Dorothea was his mother's substitute, and the landlady "Mother Heiden" ran the household. His upbringing was dominated by the puritanical strictness of his father, who lived a Protestantism with pietistic influence. There are contradictory statements about the economic circumstances of the family, which differ between daily hardship and petty bourgeois prosperity. The father was successful as a merchant in later years and was able to save the landowner of Breesen Adolf von Engel from bankruptcy in 1809 with a substantial loan.

Nothing is known about Frederick's school attendance and the promotion of his artistic talent. From this time there are only sheets with calligraphic exercises of religious texts. Around 1790, he received a few hours of weekly instruction in drawing from models and nature, as well as in the production of architectural sketches and drawings, from the Greifswald university master builder and academic drawing teacher Johann Gottfried Quistorp. Quistorp also traveled with his students through the landscape of Western Pomerania and was able to impart knowledge of Baroque art of the 17th and 18th centuries with his extensive collection. He is also said to have introduced Friedrich to the Ossianic poetry of Ludwig Gotthard Kosegarten.

According to tradition, a fatal accident was a formative childhood experience. While trying to save Caspar David, who had fallen into the water, his brother Christoffer, who was one year younger, drowned in 1787. Carl Gustav Carus, Gotthilf Heinrich von Schubert, Wilhelmine Bardua and Count Athanasius von Raczynski dramatically reported that Frederick collapsed in the ice while skating. In the family of the painter was only the talk that the two boys capsized with a small boat-like vehicle on the moat. A mild beginning of December 1787 speaks against the ice variant. The woodcut Knabe auf einem Grab schlafend (Boy asleep on a grave) from 1801 is considered to be a processing of the death of the brother Christoffer. In the psychopathography of Caspar David Friedrich this event is named as a cause for later depression.

Study in Copenhagen

In 1794, Frederick began studying at the Royal Danish Academy of Art in Copenhagen, which was considered one of the most liberal in Europe at the time. During his education he copied drawings and prints under the guidance of Jørgen Dinesen, Ernst Heinrich Löffler and Carl David Probsthayn. After being transferred to the plaster class on January 2, 1796, drawing from casts of antique sculptures was on the curriculum. From January 2, 1798, the teachers Andreas Weidenhaupt, Johannes Wiedewelt and Nicolai Abildgaard taught him how to work from a living model. Influences in his artistic development are also attributed to Jens Juel and Erik Pauelsen. Painting was not a subject of study in Copenhagen. However, the Copenhagen painting collections with extensive holdings of Dutch painting served as illustrative material. The professors generally paid little attention to the students.

The influence of the teachers on Friedrich is difficult to assess. The figures in his early theater pictures for Friedrich Schiller's drama The Robbers reveal an orientation towards Nicolai Abildgaard. The portraits of relatives that were created after his studies, as well as his first attempts at etching, are indebted in technique to the Copenhagen training. Landscape drawings of the Copenhagen surroundings were made outside the curriculum. The theory of garden art by the Royal Danish Councillor of Justice, Christian Cay Lorenz Hirschfeld, published in Copenhagen in 1785, had a profound effect on the depiction of landscapes in his oeuvre.

From the perspective of 1830, the painter rebelled against the authority of his teachers.

Friedrich had a larger circle of study friends who immortalized themselves in his family book. His friendship with the painter Johan Ludwig Gebhard Lund extended beyond his student days.

The early Dresden years

In the spring of 1798, Friedrich returned from Copenhagen to Greifswald and, probably on the recommendation of his drawing teacher Quistorp, chose to take up residence in Dresden, a center of the arts, before the end of the summer. Here, teachers from the Dresden Academy such as Johann Christian Klengel, Adrian Zingg, Jakob Crescenz Seydelmann and Christian Gottfried Schulze influenced his artistic development. A considerable number of sketches and pictorial drawings were created in the surroundings of the city. A canon of motifs came together from which the painter later helped himself again and again. He also copied landscapes by artists of the Dresden School and worked in the nude room of the academy.

His preferred techniques were initially pen and ink drawings and watercolors. From 1800 he earned his living with sepia sheets, as one of the first freelance artists who no longer received their commissions from the princely houses. Buyers were found mainly in Dresden and Pomerania. The engagement as a drawing teacher for a Polish prince that was in prospect in 1800 did not materialize. From 1800, Frederick was preoccupied with the subject of death. He depicted his own funeral in the picture.

From Dresden, he repeatedly made longer journeys on foot to Neubrandenburg, Breesen, Greifswald and Rügen. Occasions were in October

In Greifswald, he became intensively involved with the ruins of the Eldena monastery, a central motif of the entire oeuvre, as a symbol of decay, the nearness of death and the downfall of an ancient faith. In the summers of 1802 and 1803, the painter undertook extensive hikes on the island of Rügen, with an extensive artistic output. In July 1803, Friedrich moved into his summer residence in Dresden-Loschwitz.

It is assumed that after 1801 Frederick fell into a mental crisis with severe depressive periods, which is said to have led to a suicide attempt, which according to different accounts may have occurred in 1801. According to his contemporaries, the painter was 1803

Time of artistic success

Out of his apparent life crisis, Friedrich achieved his first significant artistic success in 1805. In 1805 he was awarded half of the first prize of the Weimar Friends of Art. Although the two submitted landscapes Pilgrimage at Sunset and Autumn Evening by the Lake did not meet the specifications of illustrating an ancient saga, Goethe decreed the award. The coveted prize included presentation in an exhibition and a review by Heinrich Meyer in the Propyläen.

In 1807 the first oil paintings were created, which expanded the creative possibilities compared to the sepias. In Dresden, he became friends with the painter Gerhard von Kügelgen, the Romantic natural philosopher Gotthilf Heinrich von Schubert and the painter Caroline Bardua.

In 1806, 1807, 1808, 1809, 1810 and 1811 Friedrich traveled to Neubrandenburg, Breesen, Greifswald, Rügen, northern Bohemia, the Krkonoše Mountains and the Harz mountains. In 1808, with the Tetschen Altarpiece, he achieved a breakthrough in oil technique combined with a break with conventions. In the Ramdohr controversy, critics and defenders of the Cross in the Mountains recognized the stylistic reorientation in landscape depiction and helped the painter to a first fame.

The death of his sister Dorothea on December 22, 1808, and that of his father on November 6, 1809, hit Frederick hard. It was apparently under this impression that he created the pair of paintings The Monk by the Sea and Abbey in the Oak Forest. A euphoric review by Heinrich von Kleist on the occasion of the Berlin Academy Exhibition in October 1810 immediately made the two paintings known to a wider public. They were acquired by the Prussian king at the behest of the 15-year-old Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia. Against the background of this reputation, the Berlin Academy elected the painter as its member on November 12, 1810.

Patriotism against Napoleon

After Napoleon's victory at the Battle of Jena and Auerstedt in 1806, Frederick lived in Saxony, a country allied with France. Dresden was several times the scene of warlike events, occupied by the French, Prussians and Russians. The painter lived in the Pirnaische Vorstadt in a house on today's Terrassenufer (then: An der Elbe) in simple circumstances. He was a supporter of a national liberation movement and heightened his national libertarian sentiments to a chauvinistic hatred of the French, which he shared with like-minded people in Dresden, including Heinrich von Kleist, Ernst Moritz Arndt and Theodor Körner. His modest studio became a center of patriotic men. While Körner made his name with songs and poems or Kleist with the Battle of Hermann, Friedrich positioned himself with paintings such as Tombs of Old Heroes or Chasseur in the Woods. The painter felt too old to fight in the liberation army and avoided the turmoil of war. Fearing contagious diseases, he settled for some time in 1813 in Krippen in Saxon Switzerland. These circumstances repeatedly paralyzed him in his work. In 1813, Friedrich participated in financing the equipment of his friend, the painter Georg Friedrich Kersting for service with the Lützow's hunters, got himself into existential debt and wrote to his brother Heinrich:

As a result of the negotiations at the Congress of Vienna, Frederick's homeland Greifswald, until then belonging to Swedish Pomerania, became the Prussian province of Pomerania in October 1815. The introduction of the Swedish constitution in Pomerania had been planned in 1806, but was not realized due to the Napoleonic Wars and the deposition of the Swedish King Gustav IV Adolf in 1809. Even after that, the painter felt connected to Sweden, as a Swedish flag in the painting The Stages of Life suggests.

Wedding, Mourning, Restoration

The painter had a rather matter-of-fact relationship to marriage. When he began drawing a salary of 150 talers as a member of the Dresden Academy on December 4, 1816, he wanted to afford a family, although he was seen by Helene von Kügelgen, the wife of his friend Gerhard von Kügelgen, as the "most unmarried of all unmarrieds". On January 21, 1818, Caspar David Friedrich married Caroline Bommer, 19 years his junior and daughter of the blue dyer Christoph Bommer, at the Kreuzkirche in Dresden. In the summer of 1818, the couple went on their honeymoon to Neubrandenburg, Greifswald and Rügen. Three children grew up together in the marriage: the two daughters Emma Johanna and Agnes Adelheid as well as the son Gustav Adolf, one child was stillborn. In 1820, the family moved into a larger apartment in Dresden at Elbe 33, and their professional situation also improved. Johan Christian Clausen Dahl, with whom Friedrich had a lifelong friendship, rented an apartment in the same house.

On February 12, 1818, Franz Christian Boll died in Neubrandenburg. Friedrich immediately designed a monument for the pastor, which was executed by his friend, the sculptor Christian Gottlieb Kühn. This only realized monument based on the painter's designs stands on the south side of Neubrandenburg's Marienkirche. In 1818 and 1819, he created a series of paintings that can be read as commemorative paintings for Boll, such as Wanderer over the Sea of Fog or The Arbor. In 1818, the painter had found friends in Carl Gustav Carus and Christian Clausen Dahl, who benefited from his artistic advice. A family friendship existed with the family of his friend Georg Friedrich Kersting, who was the head of painting at the Royal Saxon Porcelain Manufactory in Meissen.

In 1820 his painter friend Gerhard von Kügelgen was beaten to death by a robber and murderer, the soldier Johann Gottfried Kaltofen. The loss hit Friedrich hard. In 1822 he painted Kügelgen's grave. Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky's visit to the studio in 1821 proved to be a stroke of luck. The Russian poet showed great interest in Frederick's work and purchased numerous sepias and paintings for his own collection and for that of the Russian tsar. Zhukovsky's acquisitions secured Frederick's economic existence to a large extent for the coming years and made the painter known in Moscow and Petersburg artistic circles.

The political disappointments of the Restoration period, spying, intrigues at the Academy, and censorship embittered Frederick. His art remained as a space in which he could express his political stance. The painting Hutten's Tomb is a clear confessional image in which he wrote names on the sarcophagus whose ideals he saw betrayed: Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, Heinrich Friedrich Karl vom und zum Stein, Ernst Moritz Arndt and Josef Görres.

On January 17, 1824, the painter was appointed associate professor at the Dresden Academy. However, he had hoped to succeed the academy teacher Johann Christian Klengel, which probably failed because of his political views. Even though Friedrich was unable to teach at the academy, he did teach students such as Wilhelm Bommer, Georg Heinrich Crola, Ernst Ferdinand Oehme, Carl Wilhelm Götzloff, Karl Wilhelm Lieber, August Heinrich, Albert Kirchner, Carl Blechen, Gustav Grunewald and Robert Kummer for a time.

In the summer of 1826, the painter traveled to Rügen for a cure to alleviate unspecified ailments. Hikes were only possible to a limited extent. This trip incidentally alleviated his never completely disappeared homesickness, as he also cultivated his Pomeranian pronunciation and spoke with compatriots Pommersches Platt. In the first exhibition of the Hamburg Kunstverein, three of his works were exhibited, including Das Eismeer. In 1828 Friedrich became a member of the newly founded Saxon Art Association. In May he took a cure in Teplitz (Bohemia).

Age and disease

With the year 1830, a period of increasing artistic productivity began once again, in which important paintings of high mastery were created, such as The Great Enclosure or The Stages of Life. In the Transparent Paintings, the attempt at technical and aesthetic innovation can be seen. But there was also the self-understanding of one's own position in the art world with the art-theoretical fragments of expression when looking at a collection of paintings by mostly still living and recently deceased artists. In them, Friedrich documents his rootedness in early Romanticism and his rejection of the new realism in landscape painting, especially that of the Düsseldorf School. The late works stood outside the current art development, less and less respected by critics and the public. Selling the paintings had become difficult. The family lived in financial hardship.

On June 26, 1835, the painter suffered a stroke with paralysis symptoms. He took a cure in Teplice, which he could only afford by selling some paintings about the poet Zhukovsky to the Russian tsar's court.

After the cure, Frederick began to paint again, which caused him difficulties. Nevertheless emerged in 1835

In the last year of his life, work came to a standstill. Carl Gustav Carus and Caroline Bardua took care of their friend. During a visit by Zhukovsky, the painter asked for financial support from the Russian tsar, but this did not arrive until after his death. Friedrich died at the age of 65 on May 7, 1840 in Dresden and was buried in the Trinitatisf cemetery.


Adolph Gottlieb Friedrich (1730-1809) from Neubrandenburg, tallow candle maker and tallow soap boiler in Greifswald, married since January 14, 1765 to Sophie Dorothea Bechly (1747-1781), daughter of a tailor from Neubrandenburg


Friedrich's works include paintings, woodcuts, etchings, watercolors, transparencies, pictorial drawings, nature studies, sketches and drawing exercises. The number of paintings is estimated at 300, 60 of which were shown at the Dresden Academy exhibitions, 36 are still preserved or have survived in illustrations. A little over 1000 of an unknown number of drawings are recorded in the catalog raisonné. Some of the work attributions are considered controversial. Most of the drawings belonged to about 20 sketchbooks that no longer exist in a coherent form, with the exception of the completely preserved Oslo Sketchbook of 1807. Some of the known works were destroyed by the fire in the Munich Glass Palace in 1931, were lost in the bombing of Dresden in 1945, or are considered unexplained war losses.


Friedrich used format and aspect ratio of his pictures in the sense of the effect aesthetics and the subject. The size ranges from the miniature to the dimensions of 200 × 144 cm and also gets an assignment through the meaning of the motif.

Regardless of the size, the images are executed with great attention to detail and are largely constructed in the structure. The lifelike reproduction of the individual pictorial objects has high priority. The painting style, which Frederick acquired around 1806 and never fundamentally changed, determines the overall concept of the picture from the very beginning.

On a fine, pre-primed canvas is executed as accurately as possible the preliminary drawing, accentuated with a thin brush or reed pen. Geometric figures were created with ruler, angle and rip rail. Then follows a brown-toned underpainting, on which glaze-like layer after layer of paint is applied, thinning from top to bottom and staining the underdrawing framework with the local tone. Paintings thus have a drawing character in the close-up view of the details. The self-taught artist by conviction developed this process from the sepia technique, which also allows dark glazes to shine through to the picture ground. A different visual experience is created from a distance and at close range. The painter has varied the application of paint over time. In the first oil paintings (Seashore with Fishermen, 1807) the colors appear dry and almost monochrome. Later, the colors were lighter and also used impasto (Hune Grave in Autumn, 1819). Often the foreground and background of a painting are treated differently. In his late work, Friedrich experimented with the new technique of transparent painting using translucent colors on paper. Contemporaries report of Friedrich's unusually spartanly furnished studio, in which only a few tools of the trade were available.

Friedrich's principles of pictorial composition are entirely at the service of effect aesthetics and pictorial idea. In order to express perceptual content in a parable-like manner, the painter employed the means of construction and compilation as well as a whole reservoir of artifice. He followed conventional landscape painting when a pictorial concept could be realized, but broke with tradition when it constricted him along the way, thus arriving at a conception of the image that was revolutionary at the beginning of the 19th century. Although the painter moved in a considerable breadth of design possibilities, a clear canon of design principles is recognizable:

In Friedrich's paintings, the bodies, things and phenomena of nature are detached from their natural contexts, organized in pictorial space and led in variations to ever new pictorial compositions. Drawings serve as preparatory work for a painting or as a model for the pictorial form of the painting. Landscapes of different topographies are often assembled on one pictorial surface. Likewise, the painter assembles architectures of different styles. In the case of trees from nature studies, he places non-existent branches for compositional reasons. Mountain ranges in the background of northern German landscapes are usually placed for the purpose of background composition. Flat landscapes are often modeled on, making it difficult to determine the undoubtedly underlying real places. Friedrich's paintings are hardly simple imitations of nature, but were created as a multi-layered process of processed experience of nature and thoughtful reflection. Despite the composition of landscapes, the impression of great closeness to nature is created in the painting.

Around 1830, Friedrich discovered for himself the transparent image, which had been widespread in Europe since the 1780s. In this medium, images painted on translucent materials and backlit were presented in the dark. The Pomeranian compatriot Jacob Philipp Hackert is considered the creator of a moonlight landscape produced in this way since 1800.

At the suggestion of Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky, Frederick produced four transparency paintings for the young Russian heir to the throne, Alexander. The painter planned a musical allegorical cycle that included musical accompaniment as well as a light installation. The motifs chosen for the Allegory of Heavenly Music are a fairy-tale incantation scene, Lute Player and Guitarist in a Gothic Ruin, The Harpist at a Church, and The Musician's Dream. A Moonlight Landscape and Oybin Ruin by Moonlight were created based on Hackert's model. The Mountainous River Landscape can be seen in a daytime and a nighttime version, depending on the lighting.


Friedrich's drawings are made with pencil, pen and ink and are mainly found in sketchbooks. He showed a special talent in the use of the pencil in several degrees of hardness, which had just been invented by Nicolas-Jacques Conté. His drawings even acquire a painterly quality with a very differentiated internal drawing. The painter's primary interest was nature motifs. In the Dresden area, on trips to Mecklenburg, Pomerania, the Harz Mountains or the Giant Mountains, he created depictions of plants, trees, rocks, clouds, village views, ruins, coastal and mountain landscapes. The course of Friedrich's wanderings can be reconstructed from the sketches. The drawings served as a basis for elements of paintings, sepia and watercolors, but in their mixture of care and liveliness have an artistic intrinsic value.

Because of his limited talent in figure drawing, figure representations and portraits make up only a small part of his oeuvre. It is reported that Georg Friedrich Kersting in some cases executed the figures in Friedrich's paintings. Some traced figure drawings have survived, which were helpful in depicting figures in the oil paintings, such as Zwei sitzende Frauen (1818) used in the painting Rast bei der Heuernte (1815). For the study of Hutten's grave, August Milarch was most likely put on paper using a camera obscura.

Cuttlefish and watercolors

Friedrich achieved a high level of mastery in his sepias early on. With the Rügen landscapes such as the View of Arkona (1803), he earned much applause from the public and reviewers and thus had a significant share in the enthusiasm for Rügen that began around 1800 and the initial Rügen tourism. With the sepia painting, which enjoyed great popularity, the painter was able to achieve delicate tonal gradations and fine color transitions, and was thus also able to capture observed light phenomena of nature.

Watercolor is also represented in the entire artistic oeuvre. The first works in this technique were already created during the academy period, large formats, however, from 1810 and masterful pieces only in the late work. In addition to the watercolor studies, there is a whole series of pictorial watercolors. From 1817 the watercolors are combined with pen and ink drawings.

Groups of works according to themes and motifs

Frederick himself did not want to be a portrait painter and thus realistically assessed his artistic talent in this field. Thus, the portraits by his hand are limited to self-portraits or depictions of relatives and friends. Most of these portraits are drawings and were created in the period after the Copenhagen Academy in 1798. In formal terms, these drawings are in the tradition of conventional portraiture. The painter's effort to capture the greatest possible individuality of the sitter can be seen. In relation to the nature studies, the number of portraits remains vanishingly small.

In rapid succession, between 1808 and 1810, he created paintings that can be described as program or manifesto paintings. This period was the most productive for the painter. The Tetschen Altar is the most complex painting, with which the programmatic step from empirical landscape to landscape icon took place. Frederick iconized the experience of nature and broke with the traditions of landscape painting. The previous relationship between art and religion was also called into question. The Cross in the Mountains eluded genre definition and occupied a new place between landscape and sacred image. The Ramdohr controversy triggered a fierce debate about a work of art unheard of in Germany until then.

The following pair of paintings, The Monk by the Sea and the Abbey in the Oak Forest, was not the subject of public controversy, but nevertheless received unusually great attention due to Heinrich von Kleist's review. The exhibition of the two paintings in Berlin in 1810 and their purchase by the Prussian royal family brought the breakthrough to success. With The Monk and the Abbey, the painter invented those structures in the composition of the picture that the French sculptor Pierre Jean David d'Angers called the "tragédie du paysage," the tragedy of the landscape. The basic formal motifs of horizontal layers and vertical axes communicate alienation and rapture, trigger deep sensations in the viewer, and bring the religious pictorial narrative to life. Both paintings are key images for Friedrich's landscape painting and the result of a condensation of pictorial means in a further development of the prize-winning Weimar Sepias of 1805.

Frederick professed to use the means of art to express his anti-feudal, national and anti-French stance and to pay tribute to the heroes of the wars of liberation against Napoleon. In doing so, he combined the hoped-for social changes with religious renewal. From 1811, the painter was on the lookout for suitable allegories and metaphors with which to conceptualize his messages. The first two paintings with such a political message can be considered the Winter Landscape paintings, which describe hopelessness and liberation from it. With the Tombs of Ancient Heroes, a memorial landscape was created in 1812, in which the reference to the German national symbol Arminius and the visible French chasseurs can be seen as an unencoded pictorial statement. In 1813, the idea of confronting the French at the coffin with their military downfall is

Friedrich discovered cityscapes as a motif around 1811, with the painting Hafen von Greifswald bei Mondschein (Port of Greifswald by Moonlight), which can then be found into his late work. In these cityscapes, the city silhouettes have different functions in the pictorial narrative. Views of biographical places were created that apparently reveal an inner relationship of the painter to the respective city. The depictions of Greifswald show a veduta-like clarity. Neubrandenburg appears transfigured or burning. Dresden is preferably placed behind a hill or board fence in the picture compositions. In most cases, one can assume that these pictures are true to nature.

A second group of paintings shows dreamlike fantasy cities in the depth space, as in the paintings Gedächtnisbild für Johann Emanuel Bremer or Auf dem Segler. A third group places the pictorial personnel of the foreground in a symbolic relationship to a city in the background, as in the painting Die Schwestern auf dem Söller am Hafen. In this case, identifiable pictorial elements can be used to assign a real city.

With the Arctic Sea, the Watzmann and the Temple of Juno in Agrigento, Friedrich created a group of paintings whose motifs he did not personally encounter in nature - the Arctic Sea, the Alps and Sicily. The three paintings were created with a narrow dating in a biographical window between 1824 and 1828.

During this period, a motivic change in the work can be registered. Although the painter was always a master of compilation and construction, in this series he once again achieves a heightening of landscape painting beyond the naturalism of mere observation of nature to visionary pictorial inventions. He also breaks completely with the staffage-oriented mode of representation and shows pictorial spaces with intentional emptiness. The message of the impressive pictures is encoded and reaches a corresponding breadth of interpretation. For the Italians among his fellow artists, Frederick remained nothing but enigmatic.

Caspar David Friedrich developed the back figure into the central theme of landscape painting. The Romantic painter went beyond its hitherto traditional function as a scale, compositional element or instructional reference. For him, the figure on the back essentially determines the pictorial form and symbolic content of his paintings, watercolors and sepias. These are less representations of nature than constructive compositions with theatrical features. The painter thus makes a largely meaningless offer of contemplation for the viewer. Most of the time, the figures are isolated in the landscape, alone or in small groups, holding an actionless dialogue with nature. In this relationship between man and nature, in the most common interpretation, the divine universe appears in its transcendental infinity, to which Friedrich gives an aperspectival and immeasurable spatial quality.

Friedrich's pictorial aesthetic was strongly influenced by the English landscape garden. This is evidenced not only by the motifs of famous landscape gardens from the Copenhagen study period (Luisenquelle in Fredriksdahl) and from the first Dresden years. There are also views and rules of garden art transferred to landscape painting, which can be seen as an inspiration for pictorial structure and composition for some of the landscape depictions. Willi Geismeier and Helmut Börsch-Supan have pointed to the landscape garden as an intellectual-historical prerequisite for Friedrich's work and have named the theory of garden art by Christian Cay Lorenz Hirschfeld as a source. It is primarily the ideas of the Kiel professor of philosophy and fine arts about composing moods by bringing together the various landscape elements that the painter used in his work. The sepia Ideal Mountain Landscape with Waterfall, dated around 1793, can be considered the earliest example of this. Other works from this context of inspiration include The Evening, The Great Enclosure, Eldena Ruin in the Krkonoše Mountains, Temple of Juno in Agrigento, Tombs of Ancient Heroes, or Krkonoše Landscape.

Gothic architecture is considered perhaps the clearest symbol in Friedrich's pictorial allegories and appears in his work intact, as ruins or capriccio. With the ruin of the Eldena monastery, first drawn in 1801 and repeatedly used in sepia and paintings, the turn to the Gothic begins. The painter was thus in tune with the spirit of the times, which romanticized the German Middle Ages as the ideal age. The Gothic was rediscovered as an architectural style and, as a German style in contrast to the Baroque and Classicism, was felt to be close to nature and like the expression of the divine in church building. The master builder Karl Friedrich Schinkel thematized the ideal of the Gothic city in his paintings at approximately the same time.

Friedrich took the Gothic churches of Greifswald, Stralsund and Neubrandenburg into the picture. However, he also composed fantasy architecture from elements of real church buildings (Die Kathedrale, 1818) or symbolically united Gothic architecture and nature (Kreuz im Gebirge, 1818). However, he also resolutely combined Gothic with a vision of a religious renewal of the Christian church (Vision of the Christian Church, 1812). In Pomerania, the painter was considered a specialist in the Gothic style, and in 1817 he was commissioned to design the new interior and liturgical apparatus of St. Mary's Church in Stralsund. Just like the church buildings in his paintings, the style of these designs turned out neo-Gothic.

In the oeuvre as a whole, one finds a multitude of pairs of paintings and pictorial cycles, beginning in 1803 and ending in 1834. The counterparts can be antithetically related pairs of opposites, the cycles, usually in four parts, refer to seasons, times of day, or ages of life. Functionally, the pairs of paintings and graphic counterparts make it possible, in addition to allegory, to make clear a temporal dimension of what is depicted or different historical levels, which rarely succeeds in only one pictorial space, as in the stages of life. Thereby the antitheses are motivic, thematic or topographic. In the juxtaposition of Summer (1807) and Winter (1808), Friedrich follows a long tradition of painting. The paradisiacal abundance of nature and human existence is juxtaposed with the desolation of a ruin in winter with a lonely monk.

Different pairs of pictures can also be connected with each other in a motif development. An example of this is the mental and formal progression of Weimar Sepia (1805) through Seashore with Fishermen and Fog (1807) to Monk by the Sea and Abbey in Eichwald (1809). The transparent painting Gebirgige Flusslandschaft (Gebirgige River Landscape, c. 1830-1835) represents a technically produced pair of pictures in which the different landscape views are created by varying the lighting of the picture. In 1803, Friedrich began his first cycle in sepia: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter, depicting seasons of life. A similar sequence is dated 1808. By the 1820s, the cycle of lifetimes was already in seven parts. In addition to the simple landscapes of the paintings in the 1820 cycle of the seasons of life, there are also seascapes. How the painter follows 18th-century traditions is shown by the painting The Evening, which was created after Hirschfeld's descriptions of the times of day and an evening painting by Claude Lorrain.

Frederick designed a number of monuments and grave memorials. The sculptural-architectural works, however, make up only an insignificant part of the oeuvre. Out of 33 design drawings, only eight were executed. One group of these design works are obviously monuments to the heroes of the wars of liberation. One drawing for a grave monument with the inscription Theodor could have been intended for Theodor Körner, who fell in 1813, while another was dedicated by the painter to the Prussian Queen Luise, who died in 1810. There were no patrons for this, just as there were none for a monument to Gerhard von Scharnhorst, which he had in mind. It was quite common around 1800 to design monuments in honor of new civic heroes or poets, as a recommendation in literature for the design of landscape gardens. In the Romantic period, the monuments, which until then had their place in the gardens of princes, were bourgeoisified and placed in urban areas. Another group is formed by smaller monuments for graves in Dresden cemeteries, which can be considered as less ambitious contract works. The only executed monument is the one for the pastor of the Marienkirche in Neubrandenburg, Franz Christian Boll, who died in 1818.

Friedrich's painting is influenced by architectural thinking in a large number of the works, so the preoccupation with architectural designs that extend beyond the tectonics of monuments is obvious. In 1817, the painter was commissioned to design the interior of Stralsund's Marienkirche, which was destroyed during the French occupation of the city. By the summer of 1818, he had produced neo-Gothic design drawings of the choir, altar, pulpit, candlestick, fial tower, mass, pews, and baptismal font, which were based on the formal language of the monument designs. The plans were probably not executed due to lack of funds. There are other altar designs in a different style and without a known destination. One design borrows its symbolism from the Tetschen altar. Also dated around 1818 are design drawings for a small neo-Gothic church with classicist elements, including furnishings. Gerhard Eimer points out similarities with the church of Dannenwalde, built in 1821.

Writings and texts

Friedrich wrote art theoretical writings that provide information on his reflections on his own art and on contemporary art developments. Between 1829 and 1831, he wrote art-theoretical essays entitled Äußerungen bei Betrachtung einer Sammlung von Gemälden von größten noch lebendenden und kürzlich verstorbenen Künstlern. These are 165 undated and unordered texts of varying length totaling 3215 lines of note character. The works and artist names referred to are encoded with sequences of letters. With knowledge of the Dresden art scene and the art development in Europe of those years, one can interpret the entries with great certainty. The majority of the texts reveal Friedrich's displeasure with the Dresden Academy and its encrusted structures, as well as his own bitterness at no longer being in demand in the art world. Against the danger of flattening art by adapting it to the tastes of a broad public, the painter formulated his principles and convictions rooted in early Romanticism.

As early as 1809, under the heading Über Kunst und Kunstgeist (On Art and the Spirit of Art), Friedrich noted in ten commandments demands on the artist, which in essence can be interpreted as the intellectual precursor to the "utterances". These texts are formally oriented on the Ten Commandments of Moses.

Given Friedrich's low affinity for writing, it is surprising that the painter left behind some poems, songs, prayers, and aphorisms. The texts deal predominantly with religious themes, have a confessional character and are used in the interpretation of the work, for example, to assess the often occurring death allegories.

Friedrich commented on his choice of motif in a short poem:

A similar aphoristic poem:

There are 105 letters published by Friedrich's hand from the period 1800 to 1836. It can be assumed that considerably more exist or existed. The texts are addressed to relatives, friends and famous contemporaries such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. They document lifestyle, illness and artistic development or contain comments on some paintings such as the Tetschen Altar, and are thus considered an important source for the interpretation of works.

The interpretations of Friedrich's work, which usually refer to the most significant of his works, are multifaceted and often differ in principle in their theoretical approaches. The tendential openness to meaning of this art as well as the contradictory statements and confessions of the painter offer much room for interpretation. Basic patterns of interpretation can be discerned, to which the different theories can be assigned in their substance:

As with hardly any other artist, the scientific discourse on different positions is irreconcilable. Whereby the danger is recognized of using Friedrich's art as a discourse mass or of trimming the painter to fit him into one's own world view. Also, the increasingly intensive art-historical, biographical, and philosophical examination of Friedrich's pictorial thinking has made the view of the work more complicated, branched out, detailed, and difficult.

Nature and religion

That Frederick approached his art from a religious standpoint is evident. His Protestant-Pietist upbringing left its mark on him. With a Christocentric faith in his work, he understood the representation of nature as a constant worship of God, saw God in everything, even in the grain of sand. The religious interpretation of the work derives Christian pictorial statements and pictorial narratives from this attitude of the painter even where the pictorial content does not obviously suggest a sacralization of the landscape. Carl Gustav Carus introduced the concept of pantheism or entheism for Friedrich's relationship to nature, which was taken up early in research. In addition to the pantheistic worldview, the Lutheran theology of the cross is accepted as a second important component in the painter's religious aesthetics. With his catalog raisonné, Helmut Börsch-Supan has provided a consistently religious interpretation and thus had a lasting influence on the way the oeuvre is viewed. A consistent system of symbols with Christian connotations is assumed, in which dying trees or poplars are symbols of death, spruces represent the hope of eternal life, bridges represent the transition to the world beyond, fences separate paradise from earthly existence, the rock is a symbol of faith, oaks embody a pagan view of life, etc. These elements play an important role in the paintings. The significance of these elements in the composition of the picture determines the tendency towards hope or hopelessness. Even where the contemporary historical statement is undisputed, as in the painting Tombs of Ancient Heroes, political and Christian allegory intermingle, the resin cave alludes to the tomb of Christ and the spring-like vegetation to a spring theme. A large part of the religious interpretation is taken up by theology and thus the question of which theological teachings could have been the inspiration for the development of the pictorial ideas. This influence is deduced from the biographical proximity of contemporary theologians. Börsch-Supan refers to Ludwig Gotthard Kosegarten, known on the island of Rügen for his sermons in the open air. Werner Busch sees the ideas of Friedrich Schleiermacher as key to Friedrich's understanding of the image. Willi Geismeier clearly notices in Friedrich the attitude of the revivalist Christianity developing at the beginning of the 19th century.

Political confessions

In the reception of the 20th century, Friedrich's paintings have only been considered open political confessions since the eve of the First World War. Since Andreas Aubert propagated some landscapes as an embodiment of patriotic spirit, they received national symbolic value. This judgment referred to the paintings Tombs of Ancient Heroes, Felsental (The Tomb of Arminius) and Der Chasseur im Walde. Jost Hermand, too, sees the paintings with the death and resurrection mood from 1806 to 1809 as characterized by Germanic-Christian "symbols of sentiment" erected against the "Welsh Antichrist" Napoleon. The scrambling was said to be due to the fact that images of openly democratic or nationalistic content had no chance of passing the princely or French censors. Most contemporaries, however, might have understood that the works of the years 1806-1813 evoked the "Germanic, Nordic, Osianic, Medieval, Gothic, Dürerian, Huttenian, and Lutheran" of a Germany that was currently in ruins but would one day rise from ruins to new life. Whether the "grave of Christ or the grave of the mounds, the cross of Golgotha or the Iron Cross, the pillars and cross ribs of Gothic churches or the trunks of German oaks" - the symbolism that appears most clearly in the Tetschen altar reflects the "German" longing for the infinite and a closeness to nature that is held up against Romanesque classicism. Evidence of the painter's clear anti-French attitude during the Napoleonic occupation of Europe can be found in his letters, which increased to a chauvinistic hatred of France and anti-feudal attitudes when it came to the bourgeois monuments. Arminius and the Prussian army reformer Scharnhorst were for him symbolic figures of the struggle against "princely servants". In 1813, he equipped a study of spruces with the signature: "Equip yourselves today for a new battle, German men, hail your weapons." One can also imply that images of the renewal of the church theme, especially of Protestantism, meant, as it were, more civil liberties and political renewal. The idealization of the Gothic cathedral as a German style unites political and religious statement as an artistic statement.

Frederick's patriotism is hardly questioned. However, the description of his political attitude and its consideration in the interpretation of the work are, with the existing rather discrete references, mostly overambitious and to be read in the contemporary historical context of the interpretation. Thus, in the exuberance of the victory over Napoleon in 1814, the painter's rock landscapes were also interpreted as "patriotic," with an effect that continues into today's reception. In the Federal Republic, in the aftermath of the Sixty-Eight Movement and its anti-national stance, the painter's "Germanness" and "his relations to New German zealots such as Ernst Moritz Arndt and the quaint gymnastics father Friedrich Ludwig Jahn" came to the fore in the assessment of Friedrich's patriotic paintings. According to Jens Christian Jensen, Friedrich's advocacy of the German cause in the fight against Napoleon contributed to the narrowing of his artistic horizon. However, in view of the princely and French censorship before 1813 (and after 1815), there were no exhibition opportunities for paintings with undisguised national or democratic themes. By his own admission, the painter avoided pointed political allegory. Figures in old German costume are regarded as a subliminal patriotic confession. The painting Hutten's Grave from 1823 shows little encryption. Here the betrayal of the ideals of the wars of liberation in the time of the Restoration is clearly lamented.

Masonic image program

According to Hubertus Gaßner, the hidden geometry in Friedrich's paintings and the metaphorical language used refer to the pronounced symbolism of the Freemasons at the beginning of the 19th century. For example, the back figures placed in the landscape or ships sailing in and out are also basic figures of Masonic thought. Anna Mika also analyzes the paintings from the point of view of hidden geometric figures from the Masonic initiation program and clearly recognizes the "seven-step ladder to heaven" in the Wanderer over the Sea of Fog. It is assumed that Frederick himself was a freemason. However, there is no evidence for this. Neither in a Greifswald nor in a Dresden lodge is the painter listed as a member, but was in close relations with Freemasons. His drawing teacher Quistorp belonged to the Greifswald Johannes Lodge Carl zu den drei Greifen, Kersting to the Dresden Lodge Phoebus Appollo. The altar design Cross with Rainbow of 1816, which looks similar to the Tetschen altar, is said to have been made by Friedrich with pronounced Masonic symbolism in memory of the late Duke Karl.

Mystic geometry

In Friedrich's work, Werner Sumowski describes a multi-stage process of the picture's creation, which begins with an abstract composition of lines and surface elements and thus follows a Romantic doctrine of mystical geometry, which is veiled by the landscape motifs and becomes the inner form of the picture. Thus, a structure between naturalness and distance from nature emerges. The reference to romantic mathematics goes back above all to Novalis, who stated "Geometry is transcendental art of drawing" or "Pure mathematics is religion". Schelling, Schubert, Steffens, Oken wanted to recognize God in the geometric figure. Werner Busch sees Friedrich's use of the hyperbolic scheme in works such as Der Mönch am Meer (The Monk by the Sea) or Abtei im Eichwald (Abbey in the Oak Forest), in which the hyperbola opening upward is inscribed in the shape of the sky and is considered a metaphor for foreboding infinity.

Theory of the sublime

Since the 1970s, Friedrich's work has been associated with philosophical theories of the sublime. In addition to art scholars, philosophers and Germanists also participate in this discourse on the sublime, referring to theories by Edmund Burke, Immanuel Kant, and Friedrich Schiller. The numerous publications on the subject can be characterized in some exemplary positions:

Image finding

Friedrich literally leaves the process of finding the picture in the dark. He insists on the sensation of the depicted, which appears to him, as it were, out of nowhere before the inner eye.

This statement abruptly separates the possible connection of the work process from the art historical, contemporary historical, philosophical, and literary traditions. In research there are very different theoretical approaches to explain the phenomenon of Friedrich's original pictorial invention nevertheless. In the most common case, the problem is ignored and the painter, who is actually distant from theory, is associated with pretty much all literary and philosophical sources of his time relevant to Romanticism. Werner Hofmann fundamentally denies the painter a strategic approach and considers the "dark total idea" founded by Friedrich Schiller to be a suitable term to describe this inner act of creation. What is meant by this is that all poetry takes its beginning in the unconscious and precedes the technical. Werner Busch comes to the conclusion that Frederick could well have been more naive than the unfolded horizon of thought would suggest. There are no historical images, the present experience is the starting point. What is depicted is not based on what is known in advance, not on the mere transposition of a pre-existing text, and certainly not on what is derived from the tradition of literary Romanticism. The chosen aesthetic order is decisive for the pictorial form.

Romanticism painter

Since the Tetschen Altar, according to Werner Busch, Friedrich is considered a "kind of early Romantic identification figure" as well as the "epitome of the early Romantic artist", with Joseph Leo Koerner as the "epitome of the Romantic painter" and in the understanding of Hans von Trotha, the Romantic concept must assert itself on the painter. Undisputedly, Novalis' definition is applied to Friedrich, romanticizing as giving a high meaning to the common, a mysterious appearance to the ordinary, the dignity of the unknown to the known, and an infinite appearance to the finite. According to Werner Hofmann, the painter developed his own specific romanticism from this point of view. Many aspects of his artistic intentions touched on a general understanding of Romanticism, but without coinciding with it. Friedrich could only be called a Romantic if one did not want to speak of "Romanticism" but rather of "Romantics".

Mental illness

Research on Friedrich began around 1890 with the first texts by Andreas Aubert, whose fragments of a study on the forgotten Romantic were translated into German in 1915 by the art historian Guido Joseph Kern. Subsequently, Richard Hamann tried to approach the work with the concept of mood and to locate the painter in art history as a forerunner of Impressionism.

A first attempt to research the artist's work and to compile a catalog raisonné was made by Karl Wilhelm Jähnig on behalf of the German Association for Art Research. Since he had to emigrate to Switzerland because of his Jewish wife, he was cut off from important sources. In the Germany of National Socialism, the painter was appropriated from the perspective of Nordic racial ideology and his religious side, which was not in keeping with the times, was suppressed. The publications of Kurt Karl Eberlein Werner Kloos, Kurt Bauch, Kurt Wilhelm-Kästner, and Herbert von Einem, which were produced during this period, brought a number of new insights, but a less than useful overall view of the work and the artist. A distancing of the art establishment from Romanticism in the period after the Second World War was the result.

In 1958, Helmut Börsch-Supan's dissertation brought the painter back into art historical research under the impression of the boom in non-objective painting. Still fundamental are the Stockholm lectures of Gerhard Eimer from 1963 on Friedrich's Gothic representations.

Under the conditions of a divided Germany, art historians in the GDR also discovered the painter's potential. Sigrid Hinz created important foundations for the dating of works with her Greifswald dissertation in 1963, and Willi Geismeier, director of the German National Gallery in Berlin, published his dissertation in 1966, which is still current today and primarily identifies sources of landscape depictions and religious beliefs. In the West, Werner Sumowski created new interpretive approaches for numerous works with an extensive study at the end of the 1960s. In the wake of the '68 movement, a politicization of art history could be observed that continues to divide scholars today. Frederick was seen by a young generation of scholars as a victim of reaction, his religious views largely interpreted politically.

A solid research basis was made possible in 1974 by the catalog raisonné by Helmut Börsch-Supan using the archive of Karl Wilhelm Jähnig, the catalog raisonné of the graphic work of Marianne Bernhard, and the letters and confessions edited by Sigrid Hinz.

In the following decades, a flood of scholarly literature emerged, mostly to examine details of the work and especially in the context of major exhibitions. Research tended to shift from work with the sources to multifaceted theorizing, associated with names such as Hilmar Frank, Jens Christian Jensen, and Peter Märker. There were now interdisciplinary theoretical approaches that included philosophical, psychological, psychoanalytic, psychopathographic, or theological perspectives. Friedrich's texts were edited more precisely and critically. Several publications dealt with the identification of the painter's real landscapes.

In 2011, Christina Grummt created a significantly improved working basis for research with her index of all drawings, and Nina Hinrichs published the first history of Friedrich's reception in the 19th century and under National Socialism.

19th century

Frederick was predominantly perceived by his contemporaries as the painter of the North, both in terms of his reserved and withdrawn manner and the motifs of his art. Through the theories of the sublime and the sublime by Edmund Burke, Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Schiller, a changed perception of nature led to the idea of a "sublime north" as a counter-image to the "beautiful classicist south". This contrast was visualized by the Arcadia paintings of Classicism on the one hand and Friedrich's polar paintings such as The Arctic Ocean on the other.

In 1834, the Rügen pastor Theodor Schwarz wrote the novel Erwin von Steinbach oder der Geist der deutschen Baukunst under the pseudonym Theodor Melas. The author places the novel's character, the cathedral builder Erwin von Steinbach, at the side of a painter named Kaspar, who is close in character and biography to Caspar David Friedrich. Painter and pastor were good friends. Schwarz develops the protagonists' journey to the far north, beyond the Arctic Circle, as a counter-program to the artists' obligatory Grand Tour in Italy. In the world of sensation around 1800, a melancholy mood had been assigned to Nordic nature by the Ossian poems of James Macpherson. To a certain extent, Friedrich fulfilled the expectation of the northern pictorial worlds, especially with his motifs from the island of Rügen, whose landscape Kosegarten's poems attributed Ossianic features to.

Frederick's patriotic commitment received little attention during the Napoleonic occupation, all the more so after the end of the wars of liberation. The oaks, barrows and Gothic buildings were read as national symbols in the Romantic turn to a Germanic culture. However, by the middle of the 19th century, Frederick had already fallen into oblivion as a painter.

National Socialism

During the National Socialist era, Friedrich's work was propagandistically appropriated. The number of publications increased by leaps and bounds. His art was considered exemplary for National Socialist landscape painting and lifestyle. The topos of the Nordic was functionalized in the sense of the racially oriented Aryan myth. Yet the selective political interpretation had already begun with the rediscovery of the painter at the beginning of the 20th century. His paintings were in the context of the National Socialist glorification of the wars of liberation of 1813 and the view of Romanticism as "the national reawakening of Germany to itself." His naturalistic way of depicting landscapes and clear technique set him apart from the criteria that applied to artists defamed as degenerate. Landsmannschaft politics appropriated the Pomeranian's works for visualizing symbols of blood-and-soil ideology. The artist's apparent Christian piety was reinterpreted as pantheism and "Nordic piety" with the attribution of a Germanic-mythical connection to nature. The 100th anniversary of Friedrich's death was celebrated with numerous publications and his rediscovery by National Socialism was emphasized. The Art History Institute of the Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald was given the name Caspar David Friedrich Institute. The institute's teachers published a commemorative book in which the artist's love of the fatherland and patriotism were given a reference to current war events.

The misuse of the painter and his work by the Nazis was followed in the years after 1945 by the neglect of Frederick and Romanticism by museums. In Britain, the notion of a straight line from Romanticism to Hitler persists.

Reception in the GDR

Although art historical research in the GDR was also concerned with Friedrich, state cultural policy initially found it difficult to find an appropriate place for the non-conformist landscape painter in the art historical canon. The reference to the appropriation of Romanticism under National Socialism as well as the state cult of Goethe and Classicism were not conducive to Friedrich's reception. Regardless of this, in the early 1970s, as in the Federal Republic, broad sections of the population began to rediscover Romanticism. Frederick's images became a projection screen for freedom and being unbound. In literature, Christa Wolf's 1979 novel Kein Ort. Nirgends (Nowhere) about Heinrich von Kleist and Karoline von Günderode triggered an accompanying debate on the artist's conflict between freedom and conformity. The Wanderer over the Sea of Fog was seen as a metaphor for the free man on his own, contemplating his utopias while the fog hides the troubles of everyday life. Books and prints on the work and biography of the painter reached high circulations. The Dresden exhibition on the 200th anniversary of Friedrich's birth in 1974 attracted 260,000 visitors, and the counterpart in the Hamburg Kunsthalle 200,000. After this exhibition success, the GDR leadership recognized the Romantic's potential for cultural policy. In 1974, the 1st Greifswald Romanticism Conference was held at the Ernst Moritz Arndt University as part of the GDR's Caspar David Friedrich tribute. However, it took until the mid-1980s for the painter to be celebrated in Dresden as the city's great genius and to receive a monument in an abstract pictorial language in 1988.

21st century

At the turn of the millennium, the painter achieved an unprecedented level of international popularity. Over the past 30 years, Friedrich has risen to become the most famous German painter after Albrecht Dürer. From 1990 onwards, there has been a dense succession of large and smaller exhibitions, as well as new publications every year. The large retrospective Caspar David Friedrich - The Invention of Romanticism at the Folkwang Museum in Essen in 2006 and at the Hamburger Kunsthalle in 2007, with a total of 682,000 visitors, is one of the modern commercially successful blockbuster exhibitions. At the same time, a trivialization of important works set in. Thus the Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, like Eugène Delacroix's Liberty Leads the People, has become a passe-partout symbol, used for a variety of purposes. Through the marginal situation, the summit experience, the threat of the abyss, the physical end of a path of discovery, or the motif's openness to meaning, the hiker can be projected onto or appropriated for various contexts. On magazine titles, record covers, book covers, and in advertising, the hiker has found a place. Caricatures satirize the motif. On the cover of the news magazine Der Spiegel No. 19 of May 18, 1995, the urban-clad mountaineer gazes at a hodgepodge of pictorial symbols under a black-red-gold rainbow that are supposed to stand for the calamity of German history. Today, this montage of images is considered a trivial icon of German consciousness.

The feature film Caspar David Friedrich - Grenzen der Zeit (1986), directed by Peter Schamoni, deals with the reception of Friedrich's works. The painter himself does not appear in it personally; his life and work are told exclusively through other characters, especially his friend, the physician and artist Carl Gustav Carus.

In 2007, NDR commissioned a historical documentary directed by Thomas Frick, which illuminates the interaction between mental suffering and the painter's works.


The painting Two Men Contemplating the Moon is said to have inspired Samuel Beckett in 1936 on his six-month trip to Germany for his play Waiting for Godot, as he confessed 40 years later to the theater scholar Ruby Cohn: This was the source of Waiting for Godot, you know. The two figures in the painting transformed themselves on the theater stage into the tramps Vladimir and Estragon. Beckett replaced Friedrich's invitation to the viewer to contemplate with a provocation that is not about the content of the expectation, but about the questionability of waiting.


Fritz Meichner attempted in 1943 and 1971 to approach the life of the painter in the biographical novels Landschaft Gottes. A Novel about Caspar David Friedrich and Caspar David Friedrich. A novel of his life.

In his 2006 novel Um ewig einst zu leben. Caspar David Friedrich and Joseph Mallord William Turner tells the stories of the two Romantic painters.

19th century

Friedrich conquered a place for landscape in modernist art as an important genre. The impact among his contemporaries remained limited to students and painter friends such as Carl Gustav Carus, Johan Christian Dahl, Ernst Ferdinand Oehme, and Carl Wilhelm Götzloff. Above all, Der Mönch am Meer (The Monk by the Sea), Abtei im Eichwald (The Abbey in the Oak Forest), and Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (The Wanderer over the Sea of Fog) had potential for stimulation.

In the second half of the 19th century, painters of Realism and Symbolism discovered the Romantic's radical pictorial concepts for the further development of their landscapes. This is especially true of James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Gustave Courbet, Arnold Böcklin and Edvard Munch. The strong presence of Frederick's works in Petersburg collections showed clear influence in the Russian realist landscapists Archip Ivanovich Kuindji and Ivan Ivanovich Shishkin. The Americans Albert Pinkham Ryder and Ralph Albert Blakelock, as well as the artists of the Hudson River School and the New England Luminists, were interested in the Romanticist's mystical allegories.

20th century

The Surrealists saw Friedrich, with his montage technique and contrasting back figures, as a precursor of their artistic movement. Max Ernst and René Magritte considered themselves to be in the tradition of the Romantics when it came to questions of image perception and the inclusion of the viewer in the work process. Paul Nash paraphrased the painting The Arctic Ocean with his painting Dead Sea. When Lyonel Feininger was drawing and painting on the Baltic coast in the 1920s, he referenced the seascapes and Gothic motifs of Pomerania with his concise pictorial geometry. In the second half of the 20th century, artists such as Mark Rothko, Gerhard Richter and Anselm Kiefer were inspired by exemplary works by Friedrich.

Monuments and Caspar David Friedrich Paths

Wolf-Eike Kuntsche created a monument to Caspar David Friedrich on the Brühl Terrace in Dresden in 1990, based on Kersting's painting Caspar David Friedrich in his studio.

In 2000

In Friedrich's native town of Greifswald, a Caspar David Friedrich Bildweg was opened in 2008 and a monument to the painter was erected on a private property in 2010. The bronze sculpture was created by the sculptor Claus-Martin Görtz. There is no official monument to the painter in Greifswald. In 1998, the citizens of the Hanseatic city had decided that a Friedrich memorial should be erected on the market square, but due to financial reasons, no chances of realization have been seen until today.

In memory of the famous painter, the North German Romanticism Route has existed since 1997. The 54 km long nature trail connects a total of ten stations in the lives and motifs of early Romantic painters in the region from Greifswald to Wolgast.

Caspar David Friedrich Society

The Greifswald-based Caspar David Friedrich Society has awarded the Caspar David Friedrich Prize annually since 2001 for innovative approaches in contemporary art. Since 2004, it has operated the Caspar David Friedrich Center in the Friedrich family's former soap boiling and candle making factory, which was expanded in 2011 to include the Friedrichs' former home and business premises facing Lange Straße. Life and work are extensively documented there and changing exhibitions on contemporary art take place.

Stamps, commemorative coin

The motifs of the GDR stamp block of 21 May 1974:

By authors


  1. Caspar David Friedrich
  2. Caspar David Friedrich
  3. Erster chronologischer Katalog der Handzeichnungen und Druckgrafik. Die Nummerierung des Grafik-Œuvres von „Hinz“ wird heute noch benutzt.
  4. ^ Pomerania had been divided between Sweden and Brandenburg-Prussia since 1648, and at the time of Caspar David's birth, it was still part of the Holy Roman Empire. Napoleon occupied the territory in 1806, and in 1815 all of Pomerania passed to Prussian sovereignty.[4]
  5. ^ The family was raised by their housekeeper and nurse, "Mutter Heide", who had a warm relationship with all of the Friedrich children.
  6. ^ Vaughan, 2004, p. 7.
  7. ^ Vaughan, 2004, p. 18.
  8. ^ Wolf, p. 17.
  9. VAUGHAN, William (1994). Yale University, ed. German Romantic Painting (en inglés). New Haven (Connecticut): Yale University Press. pp. 65. ISBN 0-300-02387-1.
  10. Murray, Christopher John (2004). Dearborn, Fitzroy, ed. Encyclopedia of the Romantic Era, 1760-1850 (en inglés). Londres: Taylor & Francis Group. p. 338. ISBN 0-300-02387-1.

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