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Caspar David Friedrich was a German Romantic landscape painter of the 19th century. Friedrich is famous for his mid-period figurative landscape paintings that featured meditative figures positioned against gothic ruins, morning mists, desolate trees or dark skies. The artist had a principal interest in the contemplation of the natural world; this is because his works were mostly symbolic and conveyed subjective and emotional response towards nature. Friedrich’s artwork placed the human presence in a moderate perspective in the midst of expansive landscapes, which compels the viewers to embark on the metaphysical dimension of the artwork. This research paper outlines the location, the type of artwork, style and period of art, media and historical context of Caspar David Friedrich’s artwork. The paper also discusses personal information that makes the artist unique.
Friedrich Casper was born on September 5, 1774, in Germany. Friedrich commenced studying art in 1790 under private tutorship of Johann Gottfried Quitstorp at the University of Greifswald. His tutor exposed him on outdoor drawing expeditions, which motivated Friedrich to begin real life sketching at a young age. It is through Quitstorp that Friedrich managed to meet the theologian Ludwig Gotthard Kosegarten, who ultimately influenced his works of art by teaching that the natural world was a revelation of God, a dominant theme in his works. Friedrich also met Adam Elsheimer, a German artist of the 17th century, whose works of art incorporated religious subjects in landscape paintings, and nocturnal subjects. In 1798, Friedrich decided to inhabit Dresden permanently. His artworks were mostly landscape inspired by the frequent trips to various parts of Germany including Baltic coast, Harz Mountains, Bohemia and Riesen. Friedrich expressed his observation of the landscape of Northern Germany through his paintings that depicted morning mists, hills, light effects and harbors derived from direct observation of nature. Friedrich’s mid-period paintings were from memory, with effects indicating the illumination of the sun and moon on water and clouds. It was in Dresden during 1807 that Friedrich managed to complete his major painting titled The Cross in the Mountains (1807), which portrays the crucified Christ on a mountaintop surrounded by elements of nature. During the last 15 years of his life, Friedrich’s reputation declined persistently. This is because Romanticism was gradually becoming outdated. Friedrich suffered a serious stroke during 1835, which reduced his capabilities to paint significantly. Friedrich finally passed away in May 1840, with little recognition from the artistic community. By the time of his death, Friedrich’s reputation and fame were diminishing. His works received moderate acknowledgement during his life, though not widely. Despite the fact that landscape painting and the use of spiritual elements of the natural world dominated contemporary art, Friedrich’s works were extremely original and personal, posing significant challenges in understanding them.
Type of Artwork
Friedrich’s artwork were mostly landscape paintings, which entails the depiction of sceneries in the natural world like trees, rivers, mountains, forests and other elements of nature. In landscape art, the central focus is a wide view, with the elements of the artwork arranged in a consistent composition. In Friedrich’s paintings, landscape backgrounds were still vital components of the artworks. Friedrich had a primary interest in the depiction of nature in a manner that was emotionally responsive. Before focusing on Romantic Landscape painting, Friedrich tried other types of art such as printmaking using etching and woodcut designs, which he had produced in small scale. Friedrich’s landscape paintings changed the visualization and representation of landscape art; this is primarily because he aimed at not only classical conception of a beautiful view, but also incorporated spiritual elements of the natural world in his paintings. As a result, his landscape paintings evoked an emotional response from the viewers through a contemplation of the view. Friedrich played an instrumental role in the establishment of romantic feelings embodied in landscape paintings, with his artworks depicting numerous geographical features like mountain scenery, forests and coasts. Friedrich also used his paintings to depict religious themes. Friedrich’s major artworks comprised of only one type of art, figurative landscape painting. Besides contemplation of Nature, Friedrich used his landscape paintings to contemplate German cultural aspects, customs and myths. In addition, a number of his paintings depicted political symbols using the landscape. For example, political paintings by Friedrich include Old Heroes’ Graves (1812) and Fir Forest with the French Dragon and the Raven (1813), which portrays a French soldier amidst a dense forest with the prophet of doom placed on a tree stump to indicate the defeat of France. Besides landscape painting, Friedrich also engaged in pencil and sepia drawings to depict his romantic view of the natural world with spiritual elements; an example of his work derived from pencil and sepia drawing is the Landscape with Owl, Grave and Coffin (1836-1837).
The primary media used by Friedrich in his significant paintings included sepias, watercolor and ink. Friedrich also used oils after he had managed to establish his reputation in art. The 1835 stroke affected his painting abilities because he was no longer able to work with oils, limiting his media to watercolors, sepias and reworking on older paintings.
Style/Period of Art
Friedrich artworks were mostly German Romantic landscape paintings of allegorical nature. The style of art used by Friedrich was postimpressionism, an art period that commenced during the 19th century and mainly involved the depiction of still lives and landscapes. In addition, Friedrich’s artwork fell under the Romantic period, as characterized his passionate depiction of the elements that make up the natural world. It is apparent that Friedrich was a German Romantic landscape painter, which establishes the connection between his works of art with Romanticism of the 19th century. The style of art used by Friedrich falls within more than one period of art including expressionism, romanticism and postimpressionism. Under expressionist art, the artwork depicts certain feelings in relation to something. Expressionist artworks depicted an inner meaning rather than the outside view of the painting. This is a typical characteristic of Friedrich’s paintings, which rendered the viewer into a metaphysical world. The element of postimpressionism in his artwork is evident by the vivid use of colors and shadows in his paintings. Surrealists are of the opinion that Friedrich’s artwork was a forerunner to their movement.
During his period, Europe was increasingly become disillusioned with the materialistic society, which in turn led to the positive reception of spirituality. The expression of such transformation of ideas took place via a re-evaluation of nature, forcing artists to portray the natural world as a divine creation supposed to be free from the face human civilization. The Romantic movement influenced Friedrich’s work since the movement rationalized the natural world. This is because German Romanticism movement had a significant influence on Friedrich’s work.
Caspar David Friedrich is a unique artist because he was the first artist to romanticize the elements of the natural world. In additional, the incorporation of religious aspects to create a divine feeling in his artworks is a significant innovation in the history of art. Friedrich is a unique artist because his paintings rendered the viewer into a metaphysical world, implying that the paintings portrayed more than what the eye sees. Engagement in critical reflection with his paintings is a vital aspect in art. This is because Friedrich was able to evoke an emotional response from the viewers of his paintings.