Arts & Culture

Abbey among Oak Trees

Caspar David Friedrich1809 or 1810

Alte Nationalgalerie, National Museums in Berlin
Alte Nationalgalerie, National Museums in Berlin

Abbey among Oak Trees is the companion piece to Monk by the Sea. Friedrich showed both paintings in the Berlin Academy Exhibition of 1810. At the request of the 15-year-old crown prince, they were bought by King Friedrich Wilhelm III. In their perplexing remoteness and formal radicalism they were to become key works in German Romanticism. In Monk by the Sea a human being stands lost in the apocalyptic loneliness and infinity of nature and the cosmos. He meditates on life and its boundaries. In the companion piece, the gates of death have opened. Monks carry a coffin into a deserted Gothic ruin to hold a requiem mass under the cross. The graveyard with its crooked, sunken tombstones is equally deserted. Bare oaks reach up into the sky as though in complaint. The first light of dawn is appearing over the horizon like an ocher-yellow veil, outshining the tender curve of the crescent moon. The visionary gleam of the heavenly realm is completely detached from the earthly regions, which are still sunk in darkness. One sign of hope is in the two single lights on the crucifix. For the painter Carl Gustav Carus, who was also a friend of Friedrich’s, this painting was “of all recent landscapes, possibly the most deeply poetic work of art.”

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Details

  • Title: Abbey among Oak Trees
  • Creator: Caspar David Friedrich
  • Date Created: 1809 or 1810
  • Viewing Notes: 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).
  • Style: Romantik
  • Provenance: Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Physical Dimensions: w171.0 x h110.4 cm
  • Original Title: Abtei im Eichwald
  • Credit Line: Text: © Prestel Verlag / Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Birgit Verwiebe Photo: �� b p k - Photo Agency / Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Jörg P. Anders
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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