Caspar David Friedrich – A Vision of Eternity

2 Oct

”So driven onward to new shores forever,
Into the night eternal swept away,
Upon the sea of time can we not ever
Drop anchor for one day?

O Lake! Scarce has a single year coursed past.
To waves that she was meant to see again,
I come alone to sit upon this stone
You saw her sit on then. (…)

Pause in your trek O Time! Pause in your flight,
Favorable hours, and stay!
Let us enjoy the transient delight
That fills our fairest day.

Let’s love, then! Love, and feel while feel we can
The moment on its run.
There is no shore of Time, no port of Man.
It flows, and we go on…

(The Lake – Alphonse de Lamartine, translated by A.Z.Foreman)

1822. Moonrise over the Sea - Caspar David FriedrichMoonrise over the Sea, Caspar David Friedrich, 1822

Caspar David Friedrich, although a famous German painter of Romanticism today, was pretty much neglected as an artist until the painters of Symbolism discovered the connection between his paintings and their own ideas. Friedrich’s paintings reflect the mood of Romantic poetry of his times, which is also the mood of Schubert’s music, and some unjustly criticised his art as being to literary. His painting above Moonrise over the Sea, perhaps his most famous work, is a typical Friedrich’s landscape: dreamy but emotionally charged, it shows the sea without the line of horizon which leaves the impression of something infinite.

As usual, we don’t see the faces of his characters, two women and a man in this case, contemplating on a desolate beach, admiring the moonrise perhaps. The colours are exquisite, as I’ve seen the painting in Berlin – now I can die happily. While the stones and the shore in the foreground may seem repulsive in their dark brownness, the sea and the sky are absolutely stunning; lavender shades softly reveal the golden setting sun, then the boats sailing on that magical blueness of the sea… Perhaps the solid brown rocks symbolise stability of his family life, the merging sea and skyline freedom, and the setting sun lost hopes and a feeling of helplessness against transience.

A hint of mystery and infinite is present in this painting as well, some interpret his paintings as portrait of human alienation and solitude. Namely, Caspar was born and grew up in Greifswald, a university town and a seaport on Baltic coast. He remained closely connected to the town even as an adult, and most likely admired the sea himself, for he did say ‘I have to stay alone in order to fully contemplate and feel nature.‘ However, he had experienced a several traumas in his childhood which may had left him with a bleak and melancholic view on life; deaths of people close to him: his mother and sister had died when he was very young, and at thirteen he witnessed his brother drowning while ice-skating.

As I’ve already said, Friedrich’s paintings have often been perceived as highly poetic and connecting them to poetry then seems quite right, don’t you think? Well, as a fan of poetry of Romanticism, I’ve noticed how longer gazing at this painting reminds me of Alphonse de Lamartine’s poem The Lake. The story behind that poem is very sad, but also a material for a novel. In 1816 Lamartine met a young girl by the lake Bourget. The following year he returned to the lake, expecting to see her again, but she wasn’t there. At first he thought that she had stood him up, only to find out later that she had taken ill and died… Still, to him she remained a symbol of platonic, unearthly love.

echo and the bunnymen heaven up hereEcho and the Bunnymen ‘Heaven up Here’, 1981

Art always reinterprets itself and I see a connection between Caspar David Friedrich’s wistful and dreamy, yet lonely landscapes with the cover of the album Heaven up Here by the Echo and the Bunnymen, a great post-punk band from Liverpool. I’ll quote Wikipedia: ‘The photograph used on the front and back cover of the album was taken by photographer Brian Griffin. The picture shows the band on a wet beach in the south of Wales; there are dark clouds in the sky and the sun is low on the horizon causing the band to be silhouetted. The original album’s cover art was designed by Martyn Atkins. Reynolds said that the band’s manager Drummond saw them as representing “cold, dampness, darkness“.‘ I fully recommend the album by the way, as it is perfect for Autumn, the melodies remind me of exactly of Friedrich’s damp and solitary landscapes, but rich in colours, and atmospheric just like songs on Heaven up Here (1981). Song Over the Wall is the one I’ve listened to the most, so I recommend you to check it out if you like.

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3 Responses to “Caspar David Friedrich – A Vision of Eternity”

  1. Elliot 4th October 2015 at 11:14 am #

    Thank you for your comment, you may have a point about my British bias, though it is not really a conscious decision. There are so many excellent writers from our country, I have not been entirely ignorant of foreign literature though as I quite enjoyed reading the American female writer Chopin whom I studied at school and I love European folk and fairy tales such as Grimm, Anderson and Wagner’s ring cycle. Perhaps you could suggest some foreign books to me that you think I might like?

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    • Byron's Muse 4th October 2015 at 1:51 pm #

      For me, there’s something so exciting about reading foreign authors: you get to learn about another culture, broaden your horizons, get acquainted with a totally different worldviews and sensibilities, right? Well, here are some books that I like, I’m not sure whether you’ll like them too, but I assure you that I don’t read anything too ‘girly’ or sensationalistic, and I mostly enjoy classics.

      – Ueda Akinari: Tales of Rain and the Moon (nine supernatural stories with ghosts, first published in 1775)
      – Haruki Murakami: Kafka on the Shore
      – Soseki Natsume: Ten Nights of Dreams, and ‘Grass on the Wayside’
      – Yasunari Kawabata: Beauty and Sadness
      – Yukio Mishima: Thirst for Love
      – any book by Milan Kundera
      – Milos Urban: The Seven Churches (Gothic crime novel set in Prague)
      You can read a review here: http://internationalnoir.blogspot.hr/2013/06/new-gothic-noir-from-prague-milos.html

      – Miroslav Krleza: ‘On the Edge of Reason’ and ‘Messrs. Glembay: A play in three acts…’
      – August Strindberg: Miss Julie (a play)
      – Jostein Gaarder: Sophie’s World, The Orange Girl (written from a perspective of a 15 year old boy whose father died and left him letters in which he describes how he met ‘the orange girl’; quite sad at first)
      – Pushkin: Eugene Onegin
      – Chekhov: Three Sisters
      – Lermontov: A Hero of Our Time (if you like self-destructive, pessimistic, egoistic, cynical, cold, proud and lonely protagonists who can’t find any value in life and are constantly bored, than this is the book for you)
      – Nikolai Gogol: The Overcoat
      – Fyodor Dostoevsky: Crime and Punishment
      – Ivan Turgenev: The Hunting Sketches (in these stories Turgenev connected the critic of feudalism with beautiful, poetic descriptions of nature)
      – Goethe: The Sorrows of Young Werther
      – Erich Maria Remarque – A Time to Love and a Time to Die
      – Michael Ende: Momo
      – Emile Zola: Therese Raquin
      – Moliere: The Miser (surprisingly very, very funny)
      – Joris-Karl Huysmans: Against the Nature
      – Octave Mirbeau: Diary of a Chambermaid
      – Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Strange Pilgrims (a collection of stories)
      – Giovanni Boccaccio: Decameron
      – Isaac Bashevis Singer: The Family Moskat

      Maybe you’ve read some of these books, I don’t know, but if you do read anything from this list and enjoy it, let me know.

      Liked by 1 person

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