gandalf1202: Caspar David Friedrich – The Monk by the Sea…


Caspar David Friedrich – The Monk by the Sea [1808-10] on Flickr.

A single figure, dressed in a long garment and with his chin on one hand, stands on a low dune sprinkled with grass. The figure, usually identified as a monk, has turned almost completely away from the viewer and surveys a rough sea and a grey, blank sky that takes up about three quarters of the picture. It is unclear whether he is standing on a high rock or only on a gentle slope to the sea. The dune forms an inexpressive triangle in the composition, at the farthest point of which is the figure. Contrasting with the dark ocean there are several whitecaps of waves sometimes mistaken for seagulls.

Although Friedrich’s paintings are landscapes, he designed and painted them in his studio, using freely drawn plain air sketches, from which he chose the most evocative elements to integrate into an expressive composition. The composition of The Monk by the Sea shows evidence of this reductive process, as Friedrich removed elements from the canvas after they were painted. Recent scientific investigations have revealed that he had initially painted two small sailing ships on the horizon, which he later removed. Friedrich continued to modify the details of the painting right up to its exhibition, to the sky’s grey was added blue, with stars and a moon, but the basic composition always stayed the same.

[Alte und Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin – Oil on canvas, 100 x 171.5 cm]

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