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Caspar D. Friedrich was born on September 5, 1774 in a small town called Greifswald, Mecklenburg in Germany on the Baltic Sea. When he was thirteen years old he fell through the surface of a frozen lake and nearly perished. His brother saved his life but drowned in the effort. In 1781 his mother died and a sister ten years later. His dark deeply religious paintings may reflect these childhood tragedies.
He attended the Copenhagen Academy in 1794, but he was mainly self-taught. He settled in Dresden. Eventually, he became a professor at its academy. Friedrich became one of the most typical exponents of German Romantic landscape. His paintings have the polished brilliance of a mirror. Goethe was an early admirer but the painter was criticized by others, on both religious and esthetic grounds, for turning landscapes into religious meditations.
In his paintings Friedrich rarely depicted people, except to emphasize nature’s vastness. When figures appear in his paintings, they stand with their backs to the viewer, lost in contemplation. His specialities were sepia, watercolors and topographical drawings; he turned to oils by 1808. In 1825, Friedrich suffered a severe illness from which he never fully recovered.
A decade later, a stroke left him partially paralyzed and too weak to paint in oils. Instead he returned to the watercolors and sepias of his youth. But he was a broken bitter man. He died on May 7, 1840, impoverished and obscure.
A footnote: In 1945, fire gutted the National Gallery in Berlin, destroying many of his masterpieces. The scarcity of Friedrich’s paintings heighten their emotive power today.
Written and compiled by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.
Peter Plagens in Newsweek, February 18, 1991
Phaidon Encyclopedia of Art and Artists
From the internet, ArtMagick.com
On the Edge of the Abyss by Robert Rosenblum in ARTnews, December 1990