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Culture: Caspar D. Friedrich and the Wasteland
Thursday, 03 March 2005 Written by Gjermund E. Jansen
The painter Caspar D. Friedrich never seems to fade into oblivion as many painters of his time has done, in large part thanks to the multidimensional nature of his art. His works portrays great and overwhelming landscapes engulfing the human factor in it. The individual perspective seems to be irrelevant and Nature is everything, very much in line with the romantic tradition, but in some ways pointing towards later traditions like impressionism and symbolism.

As James Fenton mentions in his article in the Guardian, the painter Caspar D. Friedrich comes through first and foremost as a ?visionary?. Why is that? Much of the answer lays in his compositions. In his famous painting ?Polar Sea?, 1824, Friedrich paints a ship wrecked by pack ice in the polar sea. The painting does not only seem to portray a ship wrecked by the forces of Nature but also to express a contemporary political sentiment that dominated the Teutonic principalities at that time, the liberal views of national freedom and reformism pared with a strong feeling of nationalism. As the painter himself so eloquently expresses;

[i]the artist should not only paint what he sees before him, but also what he sees within him. If, however, he sees nothing within him, then he should also omit to paint that which he sees before him." [/i]

Friedrich didn?t want to be as many of his contemporary painter colleagues a mere observer of Nature but an artist trying to make a difference within the Teutonic culture at the time. He felt that a painter should express himself/herself through heartfelt impulses, only then could it be true art if;

[i]the pure, frank sentiments we hold in our hearts are the only truthful sources of art. A painting which does not take its inspiration from the heart is nothing more than futile juggling. All authentic art is conceived at a sacred moment and nourished in a blessed hour; an inner impulse creates it, often without the artist being aware of it."[/i]

This is not an uncommon view amongst artist of all times, but in Friedrich it shows an artist trying to express his views through especially Christian symbols as in his paintings ?the cross on the mountain? and ?abbey with the oak trees?, 1810.

Friedrich?s multidimensional talent comes through even stronger when you look at his paintings Riesengebirge, 1835 and The tree of crows, 1822. These paintings do exactly what the artist intended;

[i]"Close your bodily eye, so that you may see your picture first with the spiritual eye. Then bring to the light of day that which you have seen in the darkness so that it may react upon others from the outside inwards. A picture must not be invented but felt. Observe the form exactly, both the smallest and the large and do not separate the small from the large, but rather the trivial from the important."[/i] C.D.F

It gives the viewer a sense of mysticism and the latent expressionist aspect is quite obvious. What comes to my mind admiring these artistic masterpieces is the author T.S. Eliot?s Wasteland, a landscape between good and evil, a landscape so great, engulfing everything in the mystic zone of twilight.

Gjermund E. Jansen