German Artists: Caspar David Friedrich

Caspar David Friedrich
The hiker above the sea of fog
Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamberg, Germany

The eighteenth century was passing through its last breathing years. The morning was gloomy on the coast of Greifswald, a small town in Germany on the coast of the Baltic sea. 

There was a town Greifswald in northern Germany. There was one young man who was enjoying his skating in the town. Suddenly he started drowning. His elder brother came to his rescue. The young man was saved; His elder brother was not. This tragic episode kept that saved a young man's life coloured with grief and guilt. 

The saved young man, Caspar David Friedrich, yes it was his name, moulded his grief and his guilt and the coast of the town Greifswald into paintings. His artworks were to become the treasure of the world of art. 

While looking at a painting if you feel that you are standing on a hilltop and if you feel the serene beauty of the landscape before your eyes, the painting must be done by Caper David Friedrich. He had painted everything subtle he saw. Through the skilful use of dark and light colours, with their appropriate hues, Friedrich tried to convey the emotional and a little bit subjective response to the natural surrounding he lived within. He executed a colourful representation of Mother Earth. Through his landscapes paintings, he talked about the metaphysical side of the human mind, too.  

Caspar David FriedrichThe painter should paint not only what he has in front of him, but also what he sees inside himself. If he sees nothing within, then he should stop painting what is in front of him.

The Painting Analysed: In the above painting The hiker above the sea of fog, Friedrich showed his three talents. One, he proved his mastery over the art of painting landscapes; two he artfully used the use of dark shading; and the third, he nicely placed the objects painted in the right perspective. 

Look at the dark, powerful, sturdy rock on which the man is standing. The rock is painted with details against the less detailed vast expanse of the valley. As the title of the painting suggests, it is narrating a landscape covered by the sea of fog; but the brightness of the colours speaks about the time that it should be morning. There is embedded hope that the fog would disappear soon.

Landscape With Mountain Lake, Morning Caspar David Friedrich,

Look at this painting. Its title is Landscape With Mountain Lake, Morning. This painting was sold at Sotheby in 2018 for  £ 2,530,000 ($3,515,000 Approx.) Unlike other paintings done by Friedrich, this painting is full of greenery and sunshine. 

In several paintings, Friedrich tried showing the insignificance of humans. For that, he put a human figure before the vast and powerful natural forces like high mountains or deep valley or the mass volume of water. But when an artist does so, his or her endeavour should be taken from the right perspective. It should be considered as an effort to make the human race a part of the whole universe, the part that has the right to adore natural beauty and not to abolish it.

Friedrich’s landscape paintings are refined aesthetic statements. He did a re-evaluation of the natural world. We see the same in the paintings of Turner and John Constable. Friedrich believed that an artist should paint only what he could see within him and not only the things he could see before him. Following his beliefs, Friedrich painted some winter landscapes wherein the land was painted barren and desolate, representing death or mourning.

Morning in the Giant MountainsCaspar David Friedrich
Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin

Style of Painting: Despite his gloomy stock of canvases, Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) was a painter of Romantic landscapes. Friedrich was the father of German Romanticism and of modern German art.  

He painted the mountains and rivers of Germany. He painted with oil colours; he painted with allegory. Yes, the allegory was his second language. Allegory was one of the colours on his palette.  

Friedrich's paintings depicted multiple moods of nature: the night skies with subdued colours, the morning mist with bright colours, and sometimes the tree without leaves and ruined building creating the dramatic and allegorical effect in his landscape paintings. Here in this article, it is an honest endeavour to provide some clue about how to paint a landscape with allegory.


Caspar David Friedrich:  I must stay alone and know that I am alone to contemplate and feel nature in full; 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.

 The landscape is the art of painting the greeneries on the earth: the trees, the meadows, the valley, the rainy season and the snowfall. But there had been master painters who had painted Mother Earth in her every shade, in every form. The greenery is the cover of the earth, the beautiful clothes of Mother Earth. And barren earth looks like a sad man's solicitude. But the artists have embedded beauty in such barren form of the earth, too. 

Memories of the Giant Mountains Caspar David Friedrich
The State Hermitage Museum, Saint PetersburgRussia.

Those who have painted deserts and bare mountains without the green cover of the grass might have found their work more challenging. They would have fewer objects to depict the aesthetic idea. But if the painting Memories of the Giant Mountains done by the master painter Caspar David Friedrich is any evidence, the artists have never found any difficulty in painting the barren and uncovered areas of the land. One would hardly find the words, spacious enough to describe Friedrich's artistic prowess. His painting brush had enough power to embed the symbolic meanings into the paintings.  

In Memories of the Giant Mountains, if we look at the painting of the mountains in the foreground, we get a comprehensive view. It is well-detailed. However, we can see the absence of vegetation in this area underpainting. When we shift our eyes to the distant mountains having lesser detail, we fail to find the green substances. Unlike Friedrich's other paintings, the figure standing in the foreground and looking at the entire scene is missing here. So this canvas is the painting of the barren mountains. But it has its own beauty. 

Caspar David Friedrich Oil on canvas 
The life stages (beach picture, beach scene in Wiek)
Museum der bildenden K√ľnste, in LeipzigSaxonyGermany.
Symbolism and Allegory: Every painting is a pictorial representation of the emotions and ideas the artist had in his or her heart or mind. An artist conceives an idea. Then he or she tries to express it onto the frame as an artwork. 

There are subjects that can be expressed simply by depicting them on the canvas. Master artist like Friedrich would depict more than the visible subjects. For telling his story, he would embed some message through the shades of the colours, into the positions of the figures, and through the perspective of the entire painting. That is called symbolism.

What Is Symbolism:  Many a time it is found that while expressing the latent idea in his or her mind, an artist takes the help of symbols. The artist would not tell the story straightaway. The painting is such cases carries a meaning in an allegorical fashion. The technique of expressing meaning through allegory is known as symbolism, as it takes the help of symbols to tell something. The German artist Caspar David Friedrich was such an artist who always talked in the language of metaphors, embedding his canvases with allegory. [All the images are in Public Domain, Taken from Wikimedia Commoms]

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