I must stay alone and know that I am alone to contemplate and feel nature in full; I have to surrender myself to what encircles me, I have to merge with my clouds and rocks in order to be what I am. Solitude is indispesible for my dialogue with nature. — Caspar David Friedrich
The Wanderer above the Mists, 1817-18
His most famous painting. Writer John Lewis Gaddis said it leaves a contradictory impression, suggesting at once mastery over a landscape and the insignificance of the individual within it. We see no face, so it’s impossible to know whether the prospect facing the young man is exhilarating, or terrifying, or both.
[He] painted his famous Wanderer above the Mists in c. 1818. It embodies the quintessence of the principles of the Romantic landscape aesthetic, showing a lonely figure confronting nature in astonished reverence. In the foreground we see the dark silhouette of a rocky promontory, where a wayfarer stands looking out over dense fog and spires of rock in the valley towards distant mountains and peaks. High above these stretches a bank of clouds. The scenic excerpt is dominated by the deep space of a vista, prompting us to wonder what lies beyond.
Friedrich’s figures who habitually turn their backs to gaze into the horizon or stare from windows with rapt attention are images of the artist. His Wanderer, frock-coated and stick in hand, has climbed to a rocky peak above swirling mountain mists; the viewer looks with his eyes, the angle of vision being exactly aligned to their level in the picture space. The foreground, the conventional plateau to give the viewer a fix on the subject, has been entirely dispensed with.
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