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Paul Nash, Totes Meer (Sea of the Dead), 1940–41

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Item Code: TOPCaspar David Friedrich-9
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Artist Introduce:
Caspar David Friedrich (5 September 1774 - 7 May 1840) was a 19th-century German Romantic landscape painter, generally considered the most important German artist of his generation. He is best known for his mid-period allegorical landscapes which typically feature contemplative figures silhouetted against night skies, morning mists, barren trees or Gothic or megalithic ruins. His primary interest as an artist was the contemplation of nature, and his often symbolic and anti-classical work seeks to convey a subjective, emotional response to the natural world. Friedrich's 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 Baltic Sea, where he began his studies in art as a young man. He studied in Copenhagen until 1798, before settling in Dresden. 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. This shift in ideals was often expressed through a reevaluation of the natural world, as artists such as Friedrich, J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851) and John Constable (1776–1837) sought to depict nature as a "divine creation, to be set against the artifice of human civilization".
Friedrich's work brought him renown early in his career, and contemporaries such as the French sculptor David d'Angers (1788–1856) spoke of him as a man who had discovered "the tragedy of landscape".Nevertheless, his work fell from favour during his later years, and he died in obscurity, and in the words of the art historian Philip B. Miller, "half mad".As Germany moved towards modernisation in the late 19th century, a new sense of urgency characterised its art, and Friedrich's contemplative depictions of stillness came to be seen as the products of a bygone age. The early 20th century brought a renewed appreciation of his work, beginning in 1906 with an exhibition of thirty-two of his paintings and sculptures in Berlin. By the 1920s his paintings had been discovered by the Expressionists, and in the 1930s and early 1940s 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 Friedrich regained his reputation as an icon of the German Romantic movement and a painter of international importance.
Life
Early years and family
Caspar David Friedrich was born on 5 September 1774, in Greifswald, Swedish Pomerania, on the Baltic coast of Germany.The sixth of ten children, he was brought up in the strict Lutheran creed of his father Adolf Gottlieb Friedrich, a candle-maker and soap boiler.Records of the family's financial circumstances are contradictory; while some sources indicate the children were privately tutored, others record that they were raised in relative poverty.Caspar David was familiar with death from an early age. His mother, Sophie Dorothea Bechly, died in 1781 when he was just seven.A year later, his sister Elisabeth died,while a second sister, Maria, succumbed to typhus in 1791.Arguably the greatest tragedy of his childhood happened in 1787 when his brother Johann Christoffer died: at the age of thirteen, Caspar David witnessed his younger brother fall through the ice of a frozen lake, and drown.Some accounts suggest that Johann Christoffer perished while trying to rescue Caspar David, who was also in danger on the ice.
The chalk drawing Self-portrait, 1800, which portrays the artist at 26, was completed while he was studying at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen. Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Copenhagen
Friedrich began his formal study of art in 1790 as a private student of artist Johann Gottfried Quistorp at the University of Greifswald in his home city, at which the art department is now named Caspar-David-Friedrich-Institu in his honour. Quistorp took his students on outdoor drawing excursions; as a result, Friedrich was encouraged to sketch from life at an early age.Through Quistorp, Friedrich met and was subsequently influenced by the theologian Ludwig Gotthard Kosegarten, who taught that nature was a revelation of God. Quistorp introduced Friedrich to the work of the German 17th-century artist Adam Elsheimer, whose works often included religious subjects dominated by landscape, and nocturnal subjects.During this period he also studied literature and aesthetics with Swedish professor Thomas Thorild. Four years later Friedrich entered the prestigious Academy of Copenhagen, where he began his education by making copies of casts from antique sculptures before proceeding to drawing from life. Living in Copenhagen afforded the young painter access to the Royal Picture Gallery's collection of 17th-century Dutch landscape painting. At the Academy he studied under teachers such as Christian August Lorentzen and the landscape painter Jens Juel. These artists were inspired by the Sturm und Drang movement and represented a midpoint between the dramatic intensity and expressive manner of the budding Romantic aesthetic and the waning neo-classical ideal. Mood was paramount, and influence was drawn from such sources as the Icelandic legend of Edda, the poems of Ossian and Norse mythology.
Friedrich settled permanently in Dresden in 1798. During this early period, he experimented in printmaking with etchings and designs for woodcuts which his furniture-maker brother cut. By 1804 he had produced 18 etchings and four woodcuts; they were apparently made in small numbers and only distributed to friends.Despite these forays into other media, he gravitated toward working primarily with ink, watercolour and sepias. With the exception of a few early pieces, such as Landscape with Temple in Ruins (1797), he did not work extensively with oils until his reputation was more established.Landscapes were his preferred subject, inspired by frequent trips, beginning in 1801, to the Baltic coast, Bohemia, the Krkonoše and the Harz Mountains.Mostly based on the landscapes of northern Germany, his paintings depict woods, hills, harbors, morning mists and other light effects based on a close observation of nature. These works were modeled on sketches and studies of scenic spots, such as the cliffs on Rügen, the surroundings of Dresden and the river Elbe. He executed his studies almost exclusively in pencil, even providing topographical information, yet the subtle atmospheric effects characteristic of Friedrich's mid-period paintings were rendered from memory.These effects took their strength from the depiction of light, and of the illumination of sun and moon on clouds and water: optical phenomena peculiar to the Baltic coast that had never before been painted with such an emphasis.
Move to Dresden
The Tetschen Altar, or The Cross in the Mountains (1807). 115 × 110.5 cm. Galerie Neue Meister, Dresden. Friedrich's first major work, the piece breaks with the traditions of representing the crucifixion in altarpieces by depicting the scene as a landscape.
Friedrich established his reputation as an artist when he won a prize in 1805 at the Weimar competition organised by the writer, poet, and dramatist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. At the time, the Weimar competition tended to draw mediocre and now long-forgotten artists presenting derivative mixtures of neo-classical and pseudo-Greek styles. The poor quality of the entries began to prove damaging to Goethe's reputation, so when Friedrich entered two sepia drawings—Procession at Dawn and Fisher-Folk by the Sea—the poet responded enthusiastically and wrote, "We must praise the artist's resourcefulness in this picture fairly. The drawing is well done, the procession is ingenious and appropriate... his treatment combines a great deal of firmness, diligence and neatness... the ingenious watercolour... is also worthy of praise."
Friedrich completed the first of his major paintings in 1807, at the age of 34. The Cross in the Mountains, today known as the Tetschen Altar (Galerie Neue Meister, Dresden), is an altarpiece panel commissioned by the Countess of Thun for her family's chapel in Tetschen, Bohemia. It was to be one of the few commissions the artist received.The altar panel depicts a Gipfelkreuz, or a gilded cross, in profile at the top of a mountain, alone, and surrounded by German and Austrian pine trees.The cross reaches the highest point in the pictorial plane but is presented from an oblique and a distant viewpoint. Nature dominates the scene and for the first time in Christian art, an altarpiece showcases a landscape. According to the art historian Linda Siegel, the design of the altarpiece is the "logical climax of many earlier drawings of his which depicted a cross in nature's world."

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