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Whereas Italy was regarded as the land for which all artists yearned in the 18th and 19th centuries, Caspar David Friedrich felt drawn to the landscapes of northern Europe. He made several journeys to the Baltic Sea, to the mountains of Saxony and Bohemia; many of his coast, mountain and forest landscapes testify to this. The wonderfully radiant blue of the night sky is the dominant tone in this painting. A white full moon behind a tracery of pines lights up the cleared slopes of a forest ravine. The moonlight that illuminates the forest does not, however, seem to reach the shadowy foreground. Here, between mounds of earth and the stumps of trees, a man and a woman have taken refuge in a cave and lit a warming fire, over which they are preparing a meal. The mood of mystery of the nocturnal forest landscape suggests a religious interpretation. According to this, the hills in the foreground and the fire in the cave refer to the pains and transitory nature of earthly existence. The finely articulated pine forest behind them, by contrast, possesses an almost immaterial quality; by comparison with the scene in the foreground it appears to be a realm beyond and remote from the world and comes to a climax in the blue night sky. Friedrich juxtaposes the labours of life on the earth with the beauty and solace of a moonlit night. This work, once owned by the Berlin publisher Georg Andreas Reimer, was unknown to researchers until 1992, when it reappeared on the art market and was acquired for the Nationalgalerie.

Details

  • Title: Forest Interior by Moonlight
  • Creator: Caspar David Friedrich
  • Date Created: around 1823/30
  • Physical Dimensions: w49.0 x h70.5 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Technique and material: Oil on canvas
  • Inv.-No.: NG 12/92
  • ISIL-No.: DE-MUS-815114
  • External link: Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Copyrights: Text: © Prestel Verlag / Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Photo: © b p k - Photo Agency / Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Jörg P. Anders
  • Collection: Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Acquired 1992
  • Artist biography: Caspar David Friedrich was the most important German painter and draughtsman of the early Romantic period. He started his artistic training in 1790 when he became a private student of Johann Gottfried Quistorp in Greifswald. In 1794 he entered the Academy of Copenhagen where he formed his style copying antique sculptures. During this period he served as an apprentice under Christian August Lorentzen and Jens Juel. These artists were exponents of the Sturm und Drang movement which was characterized by individual subjectivity and heightened emotionality. Friedrich settled in Dresden, where he worked in printmaking with etchings and layouts for woodcuts, later turning to watercolours, ink and sepias. From 1801 he made frequent trips to the Baltic coast and various German mountains, drawing inspiration for a number of landscape paintings which soon became his favourite subject. Friedrich won a competition, set up by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Weimar in 1805, with his sepia drawings 'Procession at Dawn' and 'Fisher-Folk by the Sea'. He also gained recognition for being the first artist to depict a landscape in an altarpiece, with 'The Cross in the Mountains' (1807) becoming one of his most important artworks. In 1810 he was appointed a member of the Berlin Academy. He was held in high esteem even as far away as Russia, by the Grand Duke Nikolai Pavlovich and the tutor to Alexander II, Vasily Zhukovsky, who supported him by purchasing works himself and recommending him to other nobles. Friedrich’s prestige decreased over the last years of his life when he lived in relative poverty, making him dependent on the charity of friends. Among them were a number of important artists such as Philipp Otto Runge, Georg Friedrich Kersting and Christian Dahl. Friedrich’s compositions are characterized by metaphysical transcendence. His main subjects were landscapes and he forged a new way of depicting nature: often using a ‘back figure’, whereby a figure contemplating the view is seen from behind. His landscapes widely present religious topics, while his winter landscapes show a raw and powerful side to nature of a kind never depicted before. It is purely thanks to Friedrich and other Romantic painters that the genre of landscape painting holds such an important status within Western art as a whole. Among his most famous works are 'The Wanderer above the Mists' (1818), 'Chalk Cliffs on Rügen' (1818), 'The Abbey in the Oakwood' (1808–10) and 'Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon' (1830–35).
  • Artist Place of Death: Dresden, Germany
  • Artist Place of Birth: Greifswald, Germany
  • Artist Dates: 1774-09-05/1840-05-07

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