Caspar David Friedrich: Ten Facts About the German Romantic Painter

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Caspar David Friedrich Paintings

Caspar David Friedrich is the most famous German painter of Jena Romanticism (time of early Romanticism formed by a group of painters from the German town Jena). His pictures are peppered with allegories and are interspersed with themes such as death, loneliness, redemption, and ideas of the beyond. Whats the biography of this poet of landscape painting? Ten Caspar David Friedrich Facts:

  • Caspar David Friedrich was born on September 5th, 1774 in Greifswald. He was the sixth out of ten children and grew up in simple conditions. His parent’s house was close to a cathedral which had an impact on his Christian beliefs. The east German town Greifswald belonged to Sweden until 1815, but still, Friedrich was a German patriot.
  • When he was seven years old, his mother died. At the age of 14, he lost his younger brother Christoffer due to an accident. When Caspar David Friedrich was skiing, the ice broke and he fell into the cold water. His brother helped him but died himself.
  • Between 1974 and 1798, he studied drawing at the Academy of arts in Kopenhagen, Denmark. The Danish art academy had a very good reputation at that time. After he finished his studies, Friedrich moved back to Germany and settled down in Dresden.
  • He admired nature and especially liked to draw night, twilight and clouds. To immortalize nature on paper he traveled to various places in Germany. Among other things he painted the chalk cliffs on Rügen as well as the famous Schrammsteine in Saxon Switzerland, the Baltic Sea and the Harz (Mittelgebirge).
  • Many of his landscape paintings deal with the topic of death and loneliness. This hit the spirit of the age as Germany had to deal with the suppression by Napoleon. The German painter willingly spent a lot of time alone in nature to feel loneliness. Once he wrote: “I have to stay alone and know that I am alone to fully see and feel nature; I have to surrender to what surrounds me, unite with my clouds and rocks to be what I am, I need loneliness for the conversation with nature.”
  • Friedrichs famous landscapes are not images, but symbols. “Not the faithful representation of air, water, rocks, and trees are the tasks of the sculptor, but his soul, his feelings should be reflected in them. The task of the work of art is to recognize the spirit of nature and to penetrate and absorb and reproduce it with all one’s heart and mind,” wrote Caspar David Friedrich.
  • His visual language was religious as well as spiritual. When he painted his first oil painting in 1808 called “Cross in the Mountains” which was designed as an altarpiece, Friedrich marked a break in conventional landscape painting until that time by adding Christian iconography. Today, the painting is considered as an Icon of the Art of Romanticism.
  • At the age of 43, he married the 25-year-old Caroline Bommer. He informed his relatives about the marriage one week after the ceremony by mail. They had three children together.
  • In 1826, he suffered a stroke and was paralyzed for a while. At that time, his work already lost in fame. By the end of the liberation wars against Napoleon, people started disliking the patriotic message in his paintings. Furthermore, the mystification of the world was not a trend anymore. When the Russian poet Wassili A. Schukow visited Friedrich in his atelier in 1840, he saw the miserable situation of the once admired painter and noted down: “To Friedrich. Sad ruine. Is crying like a child”. Caspar David Friedrich died in May 1840.
  • The famous German painter was “rediscovered” in 1906 through the “Jahrhundertausstellung” (century exhibition) in Berlin. Especially in the 1960s and 1970s, when art historians were looking for the last roots of German patriotism, they found an answer in Friedrichs paintings and their longing for the beyond.

Top Caspar David Friedrich paintings: The Monk by the Sea, The Abbey in the Oak Forest, The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog

Featured image (cropped): Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer – Cybershot800i (photographic reproduction) Wikimedia – Public Domain
November 10, 2018
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