Caspar David Friedrich

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The artist should not only paint what he sees before him, but also what he sees in himself.

Caspar David Friedrich (5 September 17747 May 1840) was a 19th century German romantic painter, considered by many critics to be one of the finest representatives of the movement.

Quotes of Caspar David Friedrich[edit]

The divine is everywhere, even in a grain of sand...
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.
  • The artist should not only paint what he sees before him, but also what he sees in himself. If, however, he sees nothing within him, then he should also refrain from painting what he sees before him. Otherwise his pictures will be like those folding screens behind which one expects to find only the sick or the dead.
    • Quoted in "The Awe-Struck Witness" in TIME magazine (28 October 1974) and in "On the Brink : The Artist and the Seas" by Eldon N. Van Liere in Poetics of the Elements in the Human Condition: The Sea (1985) edited by Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka
    • Variant translations:
      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.
      • As quoted in German Romantic Painting (1994) by William Vaughan, p. 68
    • The painter should paint not only what he has in front of him, but also what he sees inside himself. If he sees nothing within, then he should stop painting what is in front of him.
  • 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 indispensible for my dialogue with nature.
    • As quoted in Authenticity and Fiction in the Russian Literary Journey, 1790-1840 (2000) by Andreas Schönle, p. 108, from memoirs of Vasily Zhukovsky
    • Variant translation: I have to stay alone in order to fully contemplate and feel nature.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • As quoted in "Culture: Caspar D. Friedrich and the Wasteland" by Gjermund E. Jansen in Bits of News (3 March 2005)
    • Variant translation: The heart is the only true source of art, the language of a pure, child-like soul. Any creation not sprung from this origin can only be artifice. Every true work of art is conceived in a hallowed hour and born in a happy one, from an impulse in the artist's heart, often without his knowledge. (as quoted in the article 'Caspar David Friedrich's Medieval Burials', Karl Whittington - [1])
  • You call me a misanthrope because I avoid society. You err; I love society. Yet in order not to hate people, I must avoid their company.
    • In: Joseph Koerner, whose modern classic Caspar David Friedrich and the Subject of Landscape; Joseph Koerner, p. 66; as quoted in the article 'Caspar David Friedrich's Medieval Burials', Karl Whittington - [2]
  • The artist’s feeling is his law. Genuine feeling can never be contrary to nature; it is always in harmony with her. But another person’s feelings should never be imposed on us as law. Spiritual affinity leads to similarity in work, but such affinity is something entirely different from mimicry. Whatever people may say of Y’s paintings and how they often resemble Z’s, yet they proceed from Y and are his sole property.
    • from his writings Thoughts on Art, Caspar David Friedrich; as quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p. 32
    • Variant translation:
      The artist's feeling is his law. Pure sensibility can never be Unnatural; it is always in harmony with nature. But the feelings of another must never be imposed on us as our law. Spiritual relationship produces artistic resemblance, but this relationship is very different from imitation. Whatever one may say about X.'s paintings, and however much they may resemble Y.'s, they originated in him and are his own. (** In: 'Caspar David Friedrich's Medieval Burials', Karl Whittington - [3])
  • Every truthful work of art must express a definite feeling, must move the spirit of the spectator either to joy or to sadness…rather than try to unite all sensations, as thought mixed together with a twirling stick.
    • In: 'Caspar David Friedrich's Medieval Burials', Karl Whittington - [4]
  • I am far from wanting to resist the demands of my time, except when they are purely a matter of fashion. Instead, I continue to hope that time itself will destroy its own offspring, perhaps quite soon. But I am not so weak as to submit to the demands of the age when they go against my convictions. I spin a cocoon around myself; let others do the same. I shall leave it up to time to show what will come of it: a brilliant butterfly or a maggot.
    • In: 'Caspar David Friedrich's Medieval Burials', Karl Whittington - [5]
  • People say of such-and-such a painter that he has great command of his brush. Might it not be more correct to say that he is controlled of his brush? Merely for the satisfaction of his vanity, to paint brilliantly and display skill with the brush, he has sacrificed the nobler considerations of naturalness and truth – and thus achieved sorry fame as a brilliant technician.
    • from his writings Thoughts on Art, Caspar David Friedrich; as quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p. 32
  • In this big moonlit landscape by the painter N.N., that deservedly celebrated technician, one sees more than one would wish, or that can actually be seen by moonlight. But what the perceptive, sensitive soul looks for in every painting, and rightly expects to find, is missing.. ..If that painter could find it in himself to paint fewer, but more deeply-felt, pictures instead of so many clever ones, his contemporaries and posterity would be more grateful to him.
    • from his writings Thoughts on Art, Caspar David Friedrich; as quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p. 33
  • People are always talking about 'incidentals'; but nothing is incidental in a picture, everything is indispensable to the whole effect, so nothing must be neglected. If a man can give value to the main part of his composition only by negligent treatment of the subordinate portions, his work is in a bad way. Everything must and can be carefully executed, without the different parts obtruding themselves on the eye. The proper subordination of the parts to the whole is not achieved by neglecting incidental features, but by correct grouping and by the distribution of light and shadow.
    • from his writings Thoughts on Art, Caspar David Friedrich; as quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, pp. 33-34
  • Why, the question is often asked of me
Do you choose as subjects for painting
So often death, perishing and the grave?
In order to one day live eternally
One must often submit oneself to death.
(in original language - German:
Warum, die Frag' ist oft zu mir ergangen /Wählst du zum Gegenstand der Malerei /So oft den Tod, Vergänglichkeit und Grab?/Um ewig einst zu leben /Muss man sich oft dem Tod ergeben.
    • In: Caspar David Friedrich, William Vaughn; London: Tate Gallery, 1972, p. 16–17
Here is a man who has discovered the tragedy of landscape. ~ David d’Angers
Friedrich empties his canvas in order to imagine, through an invocation of the void, an infinite, unrepresentable God. ~ Joseph Leo Koerner
Friedrich is recognized today as the supreme German painter of the Romantic era... ~ William Vaughan

Quotes about Caspar David Friedrich[edit]

  • We visited Friedrich's atelier today. Listening to him and seeing his paintings was wonderful. He has some bonhomie which pleases people and his paintings reveal his romantic imagination. As a rule, he expresses in them one thought or feeling, though vaguely. You may meditate over his paintings but not have a clear understanding of them, for they are vague even in his soul. They are dreams or daydreams. He often employs very simple natural things, such as an ice block floating on sea waves, a few trees in a dale, window of his room (facing the beautiful Elbe), knight meditating over ruins or tombstones, monk staring into the distance or below his feet: all this captivates your soul, plunges you into dreams, all invokes your imagination, powerfully though vaguely.
    • Aleksandr Ivannovich Turgenev, in his diary (6 August 1825)
  • Here is coldness, impetuousness, dying, and despair.
    • Goethe, referring to Friedrich's famous painting 'Abbey in the Oak Forest'; as quoted in Schmied, Caspar David Friedrich, p. 4 - 'Caspar David Friedrich's Medieval Burials', Karl Whittington - [6]
  • What a picture of death this landscape is!.. .one shudders when looking at it.
    • Johanna Schopenhauer (mother of Arthur Schopenhauer, her remark in a Dresden literary journal, referring to Friedrich's famous painting 'Abbey in the Oak Forest'; as quoted in Schmied, Caspar David Friedrich, p. 4 - 'Caspar David Friedrich's Medieval Burials', Karl Whittington - [7]
  • "Whenever a storm with thunder and lightning moved over the sea, he would hurry out to the top of the cliffs as if he had a pact of friendship with the forces of nature, or even went on into the oakwood where the lightning had split a tall tree from top to bottom, which led him to murmur: 'How great, how mighty, how wonderful!'" Thus a friend remembered the wanderings of Caspar David Friedrich as a young painter on the Baltic island of Rugen in 1802. It was Friedrich's favorite posture: Homo romanticus out in the weather, saluting the crag.
  • He never made the obligatory journey south to study in Rome; his subject matter was the foggy and precipitous vista, sublimely expansive and filled with premonitory brooding. The writer Ludwig Tieck believed Friedrich was the Nordic genius incarnate, whose mission was "to express and suggest most sensitively the solemn sadness and religious stimulus which seem recently to be reviving our German world in a strange way." … Friedrich's work, the Dresden painter Ludwig Richter remarked in 1825, does not deal with "the spirit and importance of nature … Friedrich chains us to an abstract idea, using the forms of nature in a purely allegorical manner, as signs and hieroglyphs."
    • "The Awe-Struck Witness" in TIME magazine (28 October 1974)
  • Friedrich is recognized today as the supreme German painter of the Romantic era, but in his own time his genius was not so widely acknowledged. This was not because the aims of his art were foreign to the interests of his generation. On the contrary, his allusions to the spiritual in nature, his close study of the local landscape, and his emphasis on the need for inspiration were all commonplace preoccupations of the period. His art was undervalued because it explored these areas with a new uncompromising vision that was too personal and original to be easily grasped.
    • William Vaughan in German Romantic Painting (1980), p. 65
  • Here is a man who has discovered the tragedy of landscape.
    • David d’Angers, as quoted in Romantic Poets, Critics, and Other Madmen (1998) by Charles Rosen, p. 87

External links[edit]

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