Solitary Tree

Caspar David Friedrich1822

Alte Nationalgalerie, National Museums in Berlin

Alte Nationalgalerie, National Museums in Berlin

In 1822 the art patron and collector, Heinrich Wagener, commissioned a “times of day” diptych from Friedrich. The morning picture became The Solitary Tree. A grassy landscape with groups of trees, ponds, and villages extends to the foothills of the mountains behind the spires of a Gothic town. One mighty oak stands like a statue in the middle of the composition. A shepherd shelters beneath it. Its great trunk has withstood wind and weather, but the tips of the branches of this giant tree have already died off. Above the tree, the clouds form of a kind of cupola. Transgressing against the classical laws of composition, Friedrich cuts through all the various levels of the picture with the tree as the central foreground axis. And thus, at a stroke the oak tree takes on the role of mediator between heaven and earth, between the transcendental and the mundane. As an image of nature, it embodies natural strength and the life force, while at the same time the with-ered branches point to a life beyond this one.

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  • Title: Solitary Tree
  • Creator: Caspar David Friedrich
  • Date Created: 1822
  • Physical Dimensions: w71.0 x h55.0 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Technique and material: Oil on canvas
  • Inv.-No.: W.S. 52
  • 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
  • Artist dates: Greifswald, Germany
  • 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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