Caspar David Friedrich Biography
Friedrich was born Sept. 5, 1774, Greifswald, Pomerania [Germany]
died May 7, 1840, Dresden, Saxony Pioneer early 19th-century German Romantic painter. Friedrich's vast, mysterious landscapes and seascape paintings proclaimed man’s helplessness against the forces of nature and did much to establish the idea of the sublime as central concerns of the Romantic movement.
Friedrich studied from 1794 to 1798 at the academy at Copenhagen but was largely self-taught. Settling at Dresden, Friedrich became a member of an artistic and literary circle that included the painter Philipp Otto Runge and the writers Ludwig Tieck and Novalis. Friedrich's drawings in sepia, executed in his neat early style, won the poet J.W. von Goethe’s approval and a prize from the Weimar Art Society in 1805. Friedrich's first important oil painting, “The Cross in the Mountains” (c. 1807), established his mature style, characterized by an overwhelming sense of isolation, and was an attempt to replace the traditional symbology of religious painting with one drawn from nature. Other symbolic landscape paintings, such as “Shipwreck in the Ice” (1822), reveal his fatalism and obsession with death. Though based on close observation of nature, Friedrich paintings were coloured by his imaginative response to the atmosphere of the Baltic coast and the Harz Mountains, which he found both awesome and ominous. Friedrich paintings portray the untamed power of nature; this is in sharp contrast to Enlightenment-era painters such as Thomas Gainsborough, who used nature to bring out qualities in their human subjects. Friedrich paintings are often read as expressing German nationalism and patriotism during a time of the Napoleonic Wars. In 1824 Friedrich was made professor of the Dresden academy. For a long time Friedrich paintings were forgotten; but these paintings were revived when the 20th century recognized its own existential isolation in his paintings.