Intense, personal, true to his own self: Caspar David Friedrich (1774 – 1840) is considered the be the most important German painter of the early Romantic period. His is a life that begins and ends in tragedy, but is nonetheless beautiful and meaningful. The loss of his mother, sister, and brother at an early age is considered a huge driving factor behind the intense emotional stance taken behind all of his works. He was born in Greifswald, in what was then Swedish Pomerania, but moved to Dresden after attending the Academy of Denmark for four years. He stayed in Dresden for the rest of his life, being a huge German patriot. During his lifetime, he had many critics because Friedrich followed his own muse and the teachings of his immediate teachers, rather than already established artistic traditions. In addition, he was out of favor with clergy because of the controversial nature of his works (including the famous “Tetschen Altar”).
What people didn’t understand was that Friedrich was actually a very pious man. He reflected the greater, unstoppable power of God through nature, while downplaying the strength of man. Thus, the landscape itself is often the dominating part of his paintings, rather than the figures in them. It wasn’t until the time of Symbolism and Surrealism that the allegorical meanings behind his works were understood. He lived his life consistently misunderstood, with a gradually deteriorating reputation. He was admired by the Romanovs, who gave their patronage for several years, until the later years of his life where any happiness he had in his prime was replaced by a preoccupation with death and the afterlife.
Although he had many critics, he was also the recipient for the prestigious Weimar award, where (thankfully) Goethe himself recognized him for his genius. Friedrich’s works are deeply emotional and spiritual; looking at his landscapes makes you feel small, in comparison to the greater, more powerful forces of nature. Due to a stroke, his hand was debilitated near the end of his life, forcing him to paint in watercolor and sepia. Tragically, he died when his work had eventually fallen out of popularity. Thankfully, he’s now secured a place among the most prominent German painters, where he belongs.
Did I mention how beautiful his eyes are? Or how nice mutton chops can look on the right person?