Caspar David Friedrich: The Gothic Romantic Genius Painter

Our artistic knowledge isn’t up to much, unfortunately, being students of literature. But from time to time we come across great paintings from the past we love.

Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) was a German Romantic landscape painter – we’ve had a thing for his work for some time now.

In March we took a grimace at Goya’s horrifying Saturn Devouring His Son, but Friedrich’s pieces revel in the gothic across a more beautiful and arresting array of emotions.

The Abbey in the Oakwood

The Abbey in the Oakwoood by Caspar David Friedrich
Painted around 1810 in Dresden. You can click on the image for a closer look.

The paintaing is far more detailed than initially meets the eye. First off, you see the trees, the dilapidated abbey, and the maudlin sky.

Look closer and there are clearly humans making their way into the abbey. The stark trees suggest it’s winter and the leaves are dead, with the gravestones indicating there’s a funeral taking place.

It ran at an exhibition in 2010 alongside the piece below – seriously, these things must have put the fear of death into everyone.

The Monk By The Sea

The Monk by the Sea
Stark.

This is an oil painting, King Frederick Wilhelm III liked it, and the Abbey painting, so much he bought them.

The idea of the picture, you could argue under the religious pretences of the time, is a lone monk dwarfed by nature; God.

Later, under Hitler’s far right rule, Friedrich’s work was used to support Nazi propaganda. Germans for Germany etc.

Hitler also used certain authors to champion his cause, dismissing the pacifistic All Quiet on the Western Front in favour of the bravado-friendly Storm of Steel.

Sea Shore in Moonlight

Sea Shore in Moonlight by Caspar David Friedrich
Circa 1835.

Stark imagery again, although we’re not trying to make out Friedrich’s work was only gothic.

You can see below in Morning in the Riesengebirge, he had a contemplative appreciation for morning light – sunglight in general in his other work – and sweeping landscapes.

The beauty of nature, if you will, but placed dastardly alongside an appreciaton for the macabre. Note the cross on the hill.

Morning in the Riesengebirge
Circa 1810.

Anyway, please note these works are all in the public domain – we’re not nicking his stuff illegally here. We’d like to think he’d be happy, heading for 200 years after his death, we’re here documenting his artistic integrity.

As for the artist’s life, he spent a lot of time in Dresden. As you can see in the above paintings, there’s a lot of emotional and religious symbolism.

But he was fascinated by natue – his work has that Copernicus-esque quality in how it’s not about humans. We’re secondary in Friedrich’s pieces – before everything is the beauty of the world.

And he enjoyed success for his efforts. Initially, at least, before he died in obscurity with his art discarded. As above, pieces were put back into the spotlight thanks to the Nazis.

But after WWII was lost, his work took a thrashing again due to its negative representation.

Which, of course, is entirely unfair. We think Caspar David Friedrich is on the level of geniuses such as Vincent van Gogh. If you’re interested, have a search around online to see for yourself.

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