Kaspar David Fridrih – an artist whose paintings burned

A series of exhibitions, the first of which opens this Friday, December 15, marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Kaspar David Friedrich in Germany. What makes that painter so special?

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Photo: The school of Life/YouTube
Photo: The school of Life/YouTube
Disclaimer: The translations are mostly done through AI translator and might not be 100% accurate.

Kaspar David Friedrich's 250th birthday will be celebrated only next year. Namely, the painter was born on September 5, 1774. However, the first major exhibition marking that special anniversary begins already this Friday, December 15. In the Hamburg Art Gallery (Kunsthalle) after many years it will be possible to see, as they say, "the most extensive exhibition of the works of the most important artist of German Romanticism".

It is a retrospective of more than 60 paintings, including many key works such as "White Rocks above Rigen" (1818) and "Monk on the Sea" (1808-10). Drawings and works of artists who were his friends will also be exhibited.

The exhibition marks the beginning of the "Kaspar David Friedrich Festival", in which the Old National Gallery of the Berlin State Museums and the Dresden State Art Collection will also dedicate exhibitions to the artist. All this is organized under the auspices of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Valuable national cultural property

At the end of November, a map with sketches by Kaspar David Friedrich was sold at an auction in Berlin to an unknown buyer for 1,8 million euros. Immediately before the auction, the Berlin Cultural Authority initiated the procedure to register the work of this romanticist on the list of valuable national cultural assets of the Berlin state.

German museums have now rolled out the red carpet for the German romantic by inviting retrospective exhibitions and lecture series – from Hamburg, through Berlin, to Greifswald, Friedrich's birthplace.

But his contemporaries said - as Florian Ilis writes in his recently published book about Caspar David Friedrich, "The Magic of Silence" (Der Zauber der Stille) - that he was not even a talented portraitist. Because of this, he was ridiculed even during his stay at the academy in Copenhagen. Maybe that's why Friedrich usually depicted the figures in his paintings from behind?

The blows of fate

Kaspar David Friedrich was born in 1774 in Greifswald as the sixth child of soap and candle manufacturer Adolf Gottlieb Friedrich and his wife Sofia Dorothea. His mother died in 1781, and his sister succumbed to typhus. His younger brother Johan Christoph suffered a heart attack while trying to save his brother Kaspar David who fell through the ice on the Elbe River. Only five of the nine siblings lived to adulthood.

From 1790, Friedrich studied at the University of Greifswald in the class of drawing professor Johann Gottfried Quistorp, who especially supported him. He continued his studies at the Academy of Arts in Copenhagen. From 1798, Friedrich lived and worked in Dresden, where he died on May 7, 1840.

Many appreciated him, but Goethe did not

"Mystic with a brush". That's how the Swedish poet Per Daniel Amadeus Atterbom called Kaspar David Friedrich. The painter was still appreciated by his colleagues during his lifetime.

Only Johann Wolfgang von Goethe did not know what to do with Friedrich's paintings. He mocked them as "new German" as "religious-patriotic". It is said that the poet even smashed one of Friedrich's paintings on the edge of the table - he didn't like it.

In 1794, Friedrich came into contact with "natural mysticism" in Copenhagen, which later influenced his art. His first oil on canvas was a provocative painting: Kaspar David Friedrich's work "Cross on the Mountain" from 1807/08. dedicated to the relationship between nature and God.

For him, art was no longer a window to the world, as in the time of the Enlightenment, but a window to the soul – in accordance with the spirit of romanticism. "The Cross in the Mountain" caused excitement, because the painter gave equal space to both the church and nature.

Kaspar David Friedrich was an aloof eccentric. He left his house in Dresden only after dusk, when he would go for long walks. On January 21, 1818, he married Caroline Bomer, who was then 25 years old - at six in the morning.

On fire

Kaspar David Friedrich's works often disappeared in flames. On October 1901, 28, his birthplace at XNUMX Langenstrasse in Greifswald burned down. Only a few paintings were saved, but then benevolent relatives painted them over and thus destroyed them.

During the Second World War, a large number of Friedrich's paintings were burned in the famous bombing of Dresden. Most of the surviving works of art by Kaspar David Friedrich are today in museums in Hamburg, Dresden and Berlin.

In the vortex of history

Kaspar David Fridrih died on May 7, 1840 – poor and forgotten. His art is suddenly no longer popular. Naturalism and Impressionism simply ran over him.

Already in the mid-1820s, his work began to lose its importance, when the Dusseldorf school of painting became fashionable in Germany. The rediscovery of his work only began in 1906 with a small exhibition in Berlin where paintings and sculptures from the period 1775-1875, a total of 32 works by Kaspar David Friedrich, were presented.

But the painter is in demand again today. And Frederick himself naively believed that his name would be remembered forever. That is why he refrained from signing any of his pictures.

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