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The Watzmann

Caspar David Friedricharound 1824/25

Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Solemn magnificence and perfect solitude made Caspar David Friedrich’s painting of the Watzmann the epitome of Romantic depiction of mountains. Brought close to the viewer as if through a telescope, the summit of the Watzmann seems in its shining, almost glass-like clarity to be in immediate reach, apparently near enough to touch and at the same time distant, like a symbol of divine majesty. In compositional terms the bright mountain grows out of a single, highly variegated motion. Its pyramidal form culminates in the radiant whiteness of ice, a visual concept that Friedrich had already evolved a year previously in his famous painting Sea of Ice: The Wreck of Hope (Hamburger Kunsthalle). Friedrich put The Watzmann on show in 1825 at the Dresden Art Exhibition, probably in reaction to a major work under the same name by Ludwig Richter that was displayed there the year before, based on Josef Anton Koch’s famous Schmadribach Waterfall (Neue Pinakothek, Munich). Friedrich rejected Richter’s narrative approach: landscape painting had been “closer to its aims than it is at present … when piled-up objects, one next to the other, one behind the other and one above the other, overburden the picture, and I think are meant to lend opulence,” was one of his statements on art. Friedrich, who never travelled to the Alps, painted The Watzmann on the basis of a watercolor study by his pupil August Heinrich and his own sketches made on journeys through the Harz and Riesengebirge mountains. The motif of the rock formations in the foreground follows a drawing of the Trudenstein at the Hohnekopf near the Brocken mountain done on 28 June 1811. In 1820 Friedrich had already depicted the anvil-like rock on the right in his landscape of the Riesengebirge Landscape with Rising Fog (Neue Pinakothek, Munich). In 1824, a year before The Watzmann, Friedrich showed a view of Montblanc (formerly in the Nationalgalerie, lost in the war) with an almost identical format at the Dresden Academy Exhibition. As with The Watzmann, for this work he used drawings by a friend and pupil, in this case Carl Gustav Carus.

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Details

  • Title: The Watzmann
  • Creator: Caspar David Friedrich
  • Date Created: around 1824/25
  • Physical Dimensions: w170.0 x h135.0 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Technique and material: Oil on canvas
  • Inv.-No.: F.V. 317
  • 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 / Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Andres Kilger
  • Collection: Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Loaned by the DekaBank
  • 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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