Caspar David Friedrich The Wanderer above the Sea of Clouds
Caspar David Friedrich's The Wanderer above the Sea of Clouds, painted between 1817 and 1818 is a stunning and isolated vision of the prevailing atmosphere and ideals that resonated throughout the German-speaking world during the early decades of the nineteenth century. This majestic canvas came to encapsulate the defiance, independence, and listless melancholy of the archetypal male Romantic. Friedrich became one of the leading figures in interpreting the Romanticist experience through the medium of painting. Having begun at the close of the eighteenth century with the literary 'Sturm und Drang' movement, The Wanderer above the Sea of Clouds can be seen to serve as a visualization of this ever-more dominant form of self-identification, identifying and crystallizing the central tenets of man's isolation in the world; the mystical symbolism of nature, and man's ability to confront the ravages of his own mortality.
As first glance Friedrich's canvases can seem often like clipped landscapes, suffused with a Romantic or nostalgic mood. Yet, The Wanderer above the Sea of Clouds is an immersive experience that is achieved through the use of the natural world as a mirror for the emotional charge of his human protagonist. In his meticulously-wrought paintings Friedrich reached an incomparable metaphysical transparency, recommending to his fellow artists that, "The painter should not only paint what he sees before him, but also what he sees within himself." Friedrich undertook long walks through the mountains and along the coast with his crew of likeminded friends, coming to understand the insignificance of man when compared with the immense size and power of the natural world. Consequently, many of Friedrich's lonely figures look longingly into vast landscapes or into some distant horizon, their relationship with the viewer seemingly utterly abandoned – as many simply have their backs turned and their faces hidden.
But the man in the greek frock coat reveals a complex relationship with his fellow-traveller, the viewer. Wearing the costume of a short-distance hiker, Friedrich's figure seems to have strayed from his path and climbed to a distance utterly beyond the intentions of his journey. Accompanying him on this journey, and sharing the same view as the protagonist, the viewer is invited to contemplate the steep abyss that opens up before them both. This stunning and unique landscape is an encapsulation of a world view, a high vantage point where from the splintering paths of nineteenth-century German Romanticism can be seen in all their angst and glory.
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