In 1774, an artist was born in Germany who was to enjoy both great success and devastating failures, dying a lonely death in obscurity. Caspar David Friedrich's reputation was further damaged by an association with the Nazi regime but in more recent decades he has been welcomed back into the fold of art history, regarded once more as an icon of German art for his depictions of the natural world, with humans often playing a minor role. I first encountered Friedrich's remarkable work, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, several years ago quite by accident; it is a painting that has never dimmed in my memory or esteem and it is my pleasure to feature it here today.
|Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich, 1818|
Painted in 1818 in oils and going by the German title of Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer, the painting shows a man standing atop a precipice, looking out over a fog-shrouded landscape of rocky peaks. The fog swirls into the distance, with no other sign of life beyond the figure with the walking stick who stands centre stage.
It has been suggested that the man in the portrait might be Friedrich himself but others believe it is a posthumous depiction of Colonel Friedrich Gotthard von Brincken. The green coat is certainly suggestive of the uniform of von Brinken's regiment and the Colonel died five years prior to the painting's completion, lending an additional poignancy, an almost unknown solider quality to the unknown man who might, in truth, represent many, as opposed to one.
The wanderer might be interpreted as being king of all he surveys yet to me, the landscape serves only to show his insignificance in this landscape. He is transient, mortal and finite in against a backdrop that might have exiasted for a million years and might exist for a million more.