Arts & Culture

Moonrise over the Sea

Caspar David Friedrich1822

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

Like its companion piece, the evening picture of the diptych was painted in 1822. In Moonrise on the Seashore Friedrich took up one of his favorite themes. In the reflected light of the night sky, it is as though the surface of the water begins to glow all of its own accord, taking up the light of heaven, as it were. Clouds have come up and the round shape of the full moon is half hidden behind the banks of cloud at the horizon. This means that the moonlight does not fall evenly but seems to be breaking out of a gateway in the clouds, creating a magical play of light. Complementary colours, ranging from golden to whitish yellow, violet and blue, define the contrasts of light and shade. There is a sense of the magnitude and unity of the universe. Moved by this wonder of nature, three people sit on rounded rocks near the shore, and their dark silhouettes heighten the effect of the gleaming light of the sky and the sea. Two sailing ships pursue a ghostly course across the water. The sublime drama with the moon as the symbol of hope is imbued with a quality of unearthly beauty.

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Details

  • Title: Moonrise over the Sea
  • Creator: Caspar David Friedrich
  • Date created: 1822
  • 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: w71.0 x h55.0 cm
  • Original Title: Mondaufgang am Meer
  • 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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