Caspar David Friedrich the most famous and sad romantic of German painting
Caspar David Friedrich (born September 5, 1774 died May 7, 1840) is a great German artist of the first half of the 19th century, the largest representative of romanticism in European painting, an outstanding master of landscape and portrait genres. Most of the paintings by Caspar David Friedrich are written on the themes of loneliness, death and the hope of salvation; allegorical and melancholic images are often found in his work. In the biography of the painter, periods of acute depression are closely intertwined with ordinary everyday worries and joys.
Caspar David Friedrich was a versatile artist who not only painted oil paintings and watercolors, but also skillfully mastered the art of making prints, and also painted beautifully with sepia and ink. He drew inspiration for his works from the nature of his native Germany, German folklore and Scandinavian mythology.
Caspar David Friedrich was born on September 5, 1774 in the small seaside town of Greifswald in northern Germany. His father, Adolph Gottlieb, was the owner of a small soap and candle factory, which brought the family a good stable income. Despite the lack of need, Kaspar’s childhood cannot be called happy: at the age of seven, his mother died, and a little later, two sisters.
When the future artist was barely 13 years old, another tragedy happened in the family. Younger brother Christopher drowned while trying to save Kaspar when he fell through the ice while skating on the river. This incident negatively affected the fragile psyche of the teenager and became the cause of frequent depression of the painter throughout his subsequent life.
At the age of 16, Caspar David Friedrich began taking private drawing lessons at a local university from the artist Johann Gottfried Quistorp, who instilled in his student a love of the landscape genre and taught the basics of painting. In 1794-1798, Kaspar studied in Copenhagen, at the Danish Academy of Arts, where he became close friends with Johann Ludwig Lund, with whom he maintained warm friendly relations until the end of his life.
After graduation, Friedrich returned to his native Greifswald, but stayed there for only a couple of months, and then left for Dresden. In the capital of Saxony, the artist lived until the end of his days, only periodically visiting different parts of Germany for landscape sketches.
At the beginning of his career, Caspar David Friedrich became interested in engraving, but soon switched to watercolor and oil painting. For the first time, the young artist managed to loudly declare himself in 1805, when his two landscapes were awarded the first prize at the Weimar Art Competition organized by the master of German literature Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Friedrich’s works, filled with a mystical atmosphere of mystery and romance, caused a stormy controversy in the artistic environment of Germany, but most critics sided with the artist.
The next 10 years in Europe were full of turbulent events of the Napoleonic wars, during which power in Dresden repeatedly passed from the French to the Germans and back. Nevertheless, in conditions of political instability, Kaspar Friedrich managed to create and achieve widespread recognition. In 1810 he became a member of the Berlin, and 8 years later the Dresden Academy of Arts.
In January 1818, the artist married the dyer’s daughter Caroline Bommer, who became the mother of his three children. Two years later, Frederick acquired one of his most significant patrons in the person of Grand Duke Nikolai Pavlovich (the future Russian Emperor Nicholas I), and a year later he met Vasily Zhukovsky, whose friendship lasted more than 20 years.
Contrary to expectations, the artist never got a professor position at the Dresden Academy due to political differences with the leadership. Moreover, from the end of the 1820s, the romantic style of painting in European art gradually began to lose its leading position, the era of Realism began, in which the artist’s work did not find a place.
Kaspar Friedrich’s paintings began to sell worse, high patrons lost interest in his painting, and the family began to experience serious financial difficulties. In addition, under the influence of depressive thoughts, the artist increasingly preferred loneliness to friendly communication and lived as a recluse.
In 1835, after a stroke, the 61-year-old master was partially paralyzed and could no longer paint with oil paints, and after another three years he gave up painting altogether. Since that time, only financial assistance from close friends did not allow the family to starve to death.
On May 7, 1849, Caspar David Friedrich passed away at the age of 65. His death was almost unnoticed in the European art environment, and the artist’s name was forgotten for a long time.
Only at the beginning of the twentieth century, the work of Kaspar Friedrich again gained wide popularity. His work was admired by the Expressionists, and the surrealists and existentialists drew inspiration from them. The Nazis who came to power in 1933 proclaimed the artist a true exponent of the ideas of the Aryan race, and opposed his work to the so-called “degenerate art”. The leadership of the socialist GDR also respected the work of the master and recognized him as the great genius of the German people.
The beginning of the XXI century did raise the level of the artist’s recognition to a great height. According to most art critics, Caspar David Friedrich is considered the greatest after Albrecht Dürer German artist of all time. A prestigious award in the field of arts is named after him, an 18-kilometer tourist route has been organized in the artist’s homeland to memorial sites associated with Frederick, and the postal service of the Federal Republic of Germany periodically issues stamps depicting the painter.
The most famous paintings by Caspar David Friedrich
The legacy of the great German artist includes over 500 fine works, painted over a long creative career. And yet, the following works are among the most famous paintings by Caspar David Friedrich:
- “Decinsky Altar” (“Cross in the Mountains”) (1808) is a generally recognized “icon” of romantic fine art. On it, the image of the crucified Christ is not central, but is part of the majestic sad landscape.
- The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1818) is a very powerful dramatic depiction of a lonely man on the edge of a cliff. The painting is often used in world culture on book covers as a vivid symbol of romanticism in art.
- “The Crash of Hope” (1824) is a work, in the very title of which there is a feeling of hopelessness tearing the soul. The plot of the wreckage of a wooden ship being devoured by the icy sea evokes a feeling of deep pessimism in the viewer.
- The Stages of Life (1835) is a melancholic allegory about the transience of life and the inevitability of death. It is interesting that the artist portrayed himself and several members of his family of different ages as the heroes of the picture.
Caspar David Friedrich is a brilliant romantic artist with a difficult fate, who will forever remain in the memory of posterity. His works make viewers think about the frailty of being and the greatness of the nature around us.