Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818) by Caspar David Friedrich, Kunsthalle Hamburg, Northern Germany. Friedrich (1774 - 1840) was a German Romantic landscape painter, generally considered the most important German artist of his generation. He’s best known for his mid-period allegorical landscapes which typically feature contemplative figures silhouetted against night skies, morning mists, barren trees or Gothic ruins. His primary interest was the contemplation of nature - his often symbolic and anti-classical work seeks to convey a subjective, emotional response to the natural world. His paintings characteristically set a human presence in diminished perspective amid expansive landscapes, reducing the figures to a scale that, according to the art historian Christopher John Murray, directs “the viewer’s gaze towards their metaphysical dimension”.
Friedrich was born in the Pomeranian town of Greifswald at the Ostsee (Baltic Sea), where he began his art studies very young. He studied in Copenhagen, Denmark until 1798, before settling in Dresden, Germany. He came of age during a period when, across Europe, a growing disillusionment with materialistic society was giving rise to a new appreciation of spirituality. As Germany moved towards modernization in the late 1800′s, a new sense of urgency characterized its art, and his contemplative depictions of stillness came to be seen as the products of a bygone era. The early 1900′s brought a renewed appreciation of his work, beginning in 1906 with an exhibition of 32 of his paintings and sculptures in Berlin. By the 1920s his art had been discovered by the Expressionists; in the 1930s and early 40s Surrealists and Existentialists frequently drew ideas from his work. The rise of Nazism in the early 1930s again saw a resurgence in Friedrich’s popularity, but this was followed by a sharp decline as his paintings were, by association with the Nazi movement, interpreted as having a nationalistic aspect. It was not until the late 1970s that he regained his reputation as an icon of the German Romantic movement and a painter of international importance.