aspar David Friedrich (September 5, 1774 – May 7, 1840) was a 19th-century German Romantic landscape painter, generally considered the most important German artist of his generation. He is best known for his mid-period allegorical landscapes which typically feature contemplative figures silhouetted against night skies, morning mists, barren trees
Friedrich has been ‘in’ for years. For many he has become a cult figure. This has to do with the fact that the experience of nature expressed in his paintings has been shared by many in recent decades. No other painter has so consistently made it visible that man does not naturally form part of the landscape. He stands not in, but facing nature, and can only penetrate to its meaning and beauty through solitary contemplation. He can share this silent vision with at most a single companion. The common experience of the grandeur of the vista creates friendship in the Romantic sense: a unique relationship with another person nurtured by a shared experience of nature.
Caspar David Friedrich was rediscovered in the early 20th century and is today regarded as the most prominent painter of German Romanticism. In other European countries, in Russia and in America, his works have in the past few decades also received increasing attention. Friedrich is now noted internationally as one of the key artists of the 19th century.
After the Second World War, [Friedrich] fame was largely obscured, as many critics misunderstood Friedrich's landscapes as having a nationalistic aspect. Today, his works are considered the quintessence of the romantic landscape.
The last few years of Friedrich's life were difficult ones. As the ideals of Romanticism were being replaced, he experienced a decline in reputation and popularity. The man who just a few years earlier was commissioned by the Russian Grand Duke and the rest of the royal family, now found himself without patrons and living in relative poverty. To make matters worse, a stroke in 1835 greatly reduced the artist's ability to paint
While the poet [Vasily] Zhukovsky appreciated Friedrich's psychological themes, [the Norwegian painter Johann Christian] Dahl attended to the descriptive quality of Friedrich's landscapes. Dahl said, "Artists and connoisseurs saw in Friedrich's art only a kind of mystic, because they themselves were only looking out for the mystic ... They did not see Friedrich's faithful and conscientious study of nature in everything he represented".
Friedrich established a reputation for landscape drawings and sepias before painting in oils. In 1808-12 he exhibited large-scale works such as the 'Cross in the Mountains' (Dresden). He was elected to the Berlin Academy in 1810, the Dresden Academy in 1816. In 1824 he was appointed Associate Professor of Landscape Painting at the Dresden Academy.
The Cross in the Mountains (The Tetschen Altar) brought Friedrich to the attention of a wider public. Probably at no other point in his life did Friedrich enjoy more profound appreciation and greater admiration than in the years around 1810. Two landscapes in particular were responsible for thrusting Friedrich into the limelight. In 1810 they were exhibited as pendants at the Academy exhibition in Berlin, where they were purchased by the Prussian Crown Prince Frederick William. These two paintings were The Monk by the Sea and the Abbey in the Oakwood.
Friedrich sought to express in paint thoughts and emotions which could not be put into words. What he said of a fellow artist's works applies perfectly to his own: 'Just as the pious man prays without speaking a word and the Almighty hearkens unto him, so the artist with true feelings paints and the sensitive man understands and recognizes it.'
Friedrich belongs to that special german Romantic Geselleschaft which valued a multi-faceted form of art, an art which was an expression of the doctrine of Synaesthesia, in which the expressive power of the language of many art forms blends together with philosophy in creating the ultimate artistic experience. […Friedrich's] works, more than toss of any other painter of his time, are not only the truest embodiment of the German Romantic spirit, but also the finest example of Synaesthesia in the graphic art.
Although Friedrich was personally deeply conservative and no critic of either society or religion, his understanding of the purpose of art made him an outsider. It was his fate to be, for most of his productive years, profoundly misunderstood. Never popular with the public, Friedrich continued to pursue "the expressive view of art," that is he continued to paint lovely pictures whose focus seemed too private, too personal to be accepted by others.
[Friedrich] paintings are easy to recognize; he is famous for the magical light that seems to shine from within the canvas itself. Very often there is a figure in the foreground, with his or her back turned to the viewer: the Rückenfigur. The figures are small, they are contemplating the view, and invite us to do the same. And the view is of a nature that is beyond human control, it's unreachable and merciless, and at the same time it inspires to hope for eternal life.
Friedrich's oeuvre encompasses scenes of ruined Gothic churches, cemeteries, desolate landscapes, and silent figures in vast spaces, all deeply spiritual and often melancholy. He was the first artist to create awe before nature and to infuse landscape and light with emotional and symbolic content.
Romanticism was an early nineteenth-century aesthetic movement encompassing nature, nationalism, and spirituality. In Germany, it found perfect expression in the music of Beethoven, the writings of Goethe, and the art of Caspar David Friedrich. Today, Friedrich is recognised as the quintessential German Romantic painter. In his lifetime, though, he achieved only modest fame, and his talent was cheapened by imitation. His melancholy, sometimes morbid style appealed to Romantic tastes, but fell from favour as the ardour of Romanticism cooled.