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Artists Caspar David Friedrich
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Caspar David Friedrich

German Painter

Movement: Romanticism

Born: September 5, 1774 - Greifswald, Swedish Pomerania (present day Germany)

Died: May 7, 1840 - Dresden, Germany

Caspar David Friedrich Timeline

Quotes

"Every true work of art must express a distinct feeling."
Caspar David Friedrich
"The pure, frank sentiments we hold in our hearts are the only truthful sources of art."
Caspar David Friedrich
"A painting which does not take its inspiration from the heart is nothing more than futile juggling."
Caspar David Friedrich
"I have no intention of working against the dictates of the day, of swimming against the current, when such dictates are purely a matter of fashion. Rather I dwell in the hope that time shall annihilate its own offspring, and that it shall do so quickly. But much less am I so weak as to do obeisance to the demands of the age when they go against my convictions. I spin about me my chrysalis, and let others do the same; and I leave it to time to decide what shall come of it whether a brilliant butterfly or a maggot."
Caspar David Friedrich
"I have to surrender myself to what encircles me, I have to merge with my clouds and rocks in order to be what I am. I need solitude in order to communicate with nature."
Caspar David Friedrich
"Art must issue from man's interior, and depends on his moral and religious worth."
Caspar David Friedrich
"It may be a great honour to have a large public on one's side. But it is surely a much greater honour to have a small, select public on one's side."
Caspar David Friedrich
"The painter should not paint merely what he sees in front of him, but also what he sees within himself. If he sees nothing within, he should not paint what he sees before him."
Caspar David Friedrich
"Close your bodily eye, that you may see your picture first with the eye of the spirit. Then bring to light what you have seen in the darkness, that its effect may work back, from without to within."
Caspar David Friedrich
"I have to stay alone in order to fully contemplate and feel nature."
Caspar David Friedrich

"All authentic art is conceived at a sacred moment and nourished in a blessed hour; an inner impulse creates it, often without the artist being aware of it."

Caspar David Friedrich Signature

Synopsis

Seeking to capture an experience of the infinite, Caspar David Friedrich composed works that directly confronted the viewer with the awesome. Friedrich took the genre of landscape painting, traditionally considered unimportant, and infused it with deep religious and spiritual significance. Believing that the majesty of the natural world could only reflect the magnificence of God, he featured sunlight vistas and foggy expanses to convey the beautiful power of the divine.

Key Ideas

Friedrich's moody landscapes, which often thrust the viewer into the wilds of nature, created an emotional connection with the viewer rather than a more literal interaction with the scene. This integration of spiritual significance with landscape painting made him a popular success.
While conservative contemporaries challenged Friedrich's allegorical and religious landscapes, the artist maintained that his work never simply replicated a view, but rather provided opportunity to contemplate God's presence in the world. Using dramatic perspectives and misty, untamed expanses that dwarfed any figures, Friedrich encouraged the viewer to accept the awesome power of nature as evidence of a divine spirit.
Dismissing the picturesque traditions of landscape painting, Friedrich embraced the Romantic notion of the sublime. Through his sensitive depictions of mist, fog, darkness, and light, the artist conveyed the infinite power and timelessness of the natural realm; the viewer is physically reminded of his frailty and insignificance.
Friedrich's subtle color palette and emphasis on light often created an overwhelming sense of emptiness that would influence Modern Art. The visual minimalism of his paintings was so unusual that his audiences were often confused; reportedly, one group of art enthusiasts who visited his studio viewed a work upside down on the easel, believing the clouds were waves and the water was the sky. Modernists would learn from his use of subdued color and the simplicity of his compositions that still conveyed profound ideas.

Biography

Caspar David Friedrich Photo

Childhood and Education

The sixth of ten children, Caspar David Friedrich was born into a strict Lutheran family. He became familiar with tragedy at an early age, losing his mother when he was seven, and two sisters to childhood illnesses. Perhaps the most impactful loss was the death of his brother, Johann, who drowned while trying to rescue the then thirteen-year-old artist when he fell through the ice.

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Caspar David Friedrich Biography Continues

Important Art by Caspar David Friedrich

The below artworks are the most important by Caspar David Friedrich - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

The Cross in the Mountains (The Tetschen Altar) (1807-08)

The Cross in the Mountains (The Tetschen Altar) (1807-08)

Artwork description & Analysis: Commonly referred to as The Tetschen Altar, Friedrich's The Cross in the Mountains features a pine-covered mountaintop upon which stands a large crucifix. The cloud-filled sky is rendered in shades of red, pink, and violet which fade from dark to light from the top to the bottom of the canvas. Five beams of light emanate from a distant, unseen horizon.

The shaped canvas is set in an elaborate frame, designed by the artist but carved by his friend Gottlieb Christian Kuhn. The frame features a range of Christian symbols, including the heads of five baby angels, a star, grapes and vines, corn, and the eye of God.

This painting, one of his earliest, embodies many of the Romantic motifs and themes he would address throughout his career, most notably the important symbolism of the landscape itself. Indeed, although the altarpiece includes a crucifix, the emphasis is placed on the spiritual essence of nature. He described the work: "High up on the summit stands the cross, surrounded by evergreen fir trees, and evergreen ivy twines about the base of the cross. The glowing sun is sinking, and the Saviour on the cross shines in the crimson of the sunset ... The cross stands on a rock, as unshakably firm as our faith in Jesus Christ. Fir trees rise around the cross, evergreen and everlasting, like the hope of men in Him, the crucified Christ." This was a groundbreaking reinterpretation of the genre of landscape painting giving it a new level of potential significance. It reflected Friedrich's belief that the divinity of God could be best found in nature.

While Friedrich was deeply religious, aspiring to paint an image that would convey the power of God more fully than possible through words, his approach was highly controversial. When the artist opened his studio to the public in 1808, allowing them to view this work, the 19th-century art critic Wilhelm von Ramdohr argued that a landscape could not function as an altarpiece. Friedrich and his supporters publically defended the painting and the resulting debate helped to build Friedrich's reputation.

Oil on canvas - Collection of Gemaldegalerie Neue Meister, Dresden, Germany

Morning Mist in the Mountains (1808)

Morning Mist in the Mountains (1808)

Artwork description & Analysis: This simple painting of a mountain peak awash in a white mist of early dawn fog, surrounded by barely discernable pine trees and rocky outcroppings manifests Friedrich's ideals of the Romantic landscape. This majestic, remote view of monumental nature implied a connection to a higher power, particularly in its scale and use of light. Here, a break in the clouds allows light to shine through, as if illuminating the mountain peak with a divine light.

To achieve this religious message, the depiction of mist was an important symbol for the artist. As he explained, "When a landscape is covered in fog, it appears larger, more sublime, and heightens the strength of the imagination and excites expectation, rather like a veiled woman. The eye and fantasy feel themselves more attracted to the hazy distance than to that which lies near and distant before us." Positioning us before this vast expanse with no sense of foreground, he wanted to immerse the viewer in the experience of the natural realm; a dramatic field that he felt most closely expressed the beauty and power of God. This approach created a new possibility for religious painting, based not in overt Christian symbolism, but in direct contact with awesome beyond the control of man.

Oil on canvas - Collection of Thuringer Landesmuseum Heidecksburg, Rudolstadt, Germany

The Monk by the Sea (1808-10)

The Monk by the Sea (1808-10)

Artwork description & Analysis: Arguably one of Friedrich's most important and well-known works in his oeuvre, this painting launched the artist to international fame when it was exhibited with The Abbey in the Oak Woods (1808-10) at an 1810 art exhibition in Berlin. A vast, empty landscape is dominated by the top three quarters of the canvas, which depicts a blue-gray sky and green sea. The foreground is an uneven swath of beige land where, just left of center, stands a man. Although his back is to the viewer, he is identifiable by the long, dark robe of a monk. The canvas is filled with large expanses of color, punctuated by small brushstrokes of white to denote a few crests of waves and birds in the sky. It is a masterpiece of minimalism and pictorial restraint, while still conjuring a felt sensation of awe, wonder, and humility.

The positive reception of this pair of paintings contributed to Friedrich' election as a member of the Berlin Academy and also drew the favor of Prince Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig of Prussia, who purchased the two exhibited paintings for the royal collection; a prestigious honor. Beyond the accolades, however, this work demonstrates Friedrich's experimental spirit. Any traditional approach to landscape painting has disappeared. At a quick glance, the compositional structure appears uneven and lacks a perspective focal point. Rather than illustrate a scene, Friedrich has created an opportunity for the viewer to experience a range of emotions, only suggested by the artist. If he had included more details, the viewer would be tempted to invent a narrative or story, but with this bare minimum, we are felt with only sensorial information.

This new way of creating landscapes reinforced the idea that the viewer should contemplate the sublimity of the natural world and read into it an expression of the spiritual. The potential for deep meaning in a sparse, non-narrative style, would be critical to modernist abstraction. This painting, in particular, has been linked with the post World War II Color Field paintings of Mark Rothko, also intended to cultivate a spiritual experience for the viewer.

While Friedrich often painted landscapes without a human presence, this painting represents his second approach to investing the landscape painting with a deeper significance and connection to the viewer: the use of a proxy or stand-in. The solitary figure turned towards and in communion with the landscape, known as "ruckenfigur," is one of the key ways German Romanticism differentiates itself from French and British Romanticism. Although internationally, Romanticism was occupied with the connection between man and nature, British painters tended to emphasize more nostalgic or bucolic landscapes, while the French painters often suggested man's desire to conquer nature; the German approach depicts man's attempt to understand nature and, by extension, the divine. This preference for an emotional connection between the viewer and the image replaced more literal or illustrative approaches, exemplified by Friedrich's moody landscapes, which often thrust the viewer into the wilds of nature.

Oil on canvas - Collection of Nationalgalerie, Stattliche Museen zu Berlin, Germany

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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Caspar David Friedrich
Interactive chart with Caspar David Friedrich's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Carl Gustav Carus
Gerhard von Kügelgen
Jens Juel
Johann Gottfried Quistorp
Philipp Otto Runge

Personal Contacts

Johann Wolfgang von GoetheJohann Wolfgang von Goethe
Ernest Chesneau
Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock
Georg Reimer

Movements

RomanticismRomanticism

Influences on Artist
Caspar David Friedrich
Caspar David Friedrich
Years Worked: 1798 - 1840
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Carl Gustav Carus
Fredric Edwin Church
Gustave CourbetGustave Courbet
Anselm KieferAnselm Kiefer
Gerhard von Kügelgen

Personal Contacts

Johann Wolfgang von GoetheJohann Wolfgang von Goethe
Clemens Brentano
Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock
Theodor Körner
Georg Reimer

Movements

Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Color Field PaintingColor Field Painting
German RomanticismGerman Romanticism
The Hudson River SchoolThe Hudson River School
ExpressionismExpressionism

Useful Resources on Caspar David Friedrich

Videos

Books

Websites

Articles

More

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Caspar David Friedrich and the Subject of Landscape: Second Edition Recomended resource

By Joseph Leo Koerner

Friedrich Recomended resource

By Norbert Wolf

art works

Caspar David Friedrich Recomended resource

By Werner Hofmann and Mary Whittall

Caspar David Friedrich and Romantic Painting

By Charles Sala

More Interesting Books about Caspar David Friedrich
Inspired Lunacy: A closer view of Caspar David Friedrich Recomended resource

By Peter Schjeldahl
The New Yorker
October 1, 2001

The whispering Zeitgeist: Caspar David Friedrich Recomended resource

Tate Etc., issue 14
Autumn 2008

Worlds of Romanticism | Caspar David Friedrich Recomended resource

urator Christof Metzger of the Albertina Museum, in Vienna, Austria, discusses Caspar David Friedrich's painting The Stages of Life (1835)

Caspar David Friedrich

Set to classical music, this video provides a look at numerous key works by the artist Caspar David Friedrich

Caspar David Friedrich - Famous Painters Bios - Wiki Videos by Kinedio

This brief video clip provides a quick overview of the work and artistic style of Caspar David Friedrich

in pop culture

Wanderer above the Sea of Clouds

This contemporary work of anime was inspired by Caspar David Friedrich's Wanderer above a Sea of Fog (1818). Rather than having the figure looking out at the sea as in the painting, here the young man ("the wanderer") stands above the clouds looking out at the northern lights

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Sarah Archino

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Sarah Archino
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