Sep 03, 2019
Caspar David Friedrich was a 19th century German romantic landscape painter. He is best known for his allegorical landscapes which often featured contemplative figures set against sweeping landscapes, or night skies and gothic ruins. He created his first major painting in 1808 at the age of 34, it was a panel for an altarpiece for a small chapel and was called, Cross in the Mountains. It depicted a cross standing alone on the top of a mountain, surrounded by pine trees. It was somewhat controversial as it was the first time in Christian art that an altarpiece showcased a landscape. The painting was widely criticized as many considered it presumptuous to use landscape in a religious context. Friedrich attempted to defend his work by offering a detailed interpretation his own work but to little avail as other sentiments prevailed at the time.
Freidrich came of age when there was a growing disillusionment with what was being viewed as an increasingly materialistic society and this was, in turn, giving rise to a new appreciation of spirituality. That spirituality was largely mystical, and rooted in a reappraisal of nature and often set human civilization against the created world in order to emphasize the majesty of nature. The art historian Christopher John Murray said that his work directs the viewer’s gaze “towards a metaphysical dimension.”
One of my favorite paintings, is perhaps also one of the most familiar, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1817). In it, a solitary figure stands on a rocky outcrop gazing out over a vista of hills and mountains shrouded in a sea of fog. The fog stretches out beyond the mountains and eventually blends into the cloudy sky. The landscape is the rearranged geography of the artist’s homeland of Saxony and Bohemia. Some say that the solitary figure, who we view from behind, invites us to our own self-reflection about where we stand in the world and how we see things. Writer Ron Dembo says that the Wanderer is a metaphor for the unknown future, a future shrouded in fog, in mystery.
While the painting is very much a product of a particular historic moment and is rooted in a movement that sought to reject the world being re-shaped by the Industrial revolution, I think it resonated with todays world just as well. The Romantics had a profound effect on their world; their commitment to the power of the arts and to individualism, free-thinking, and the imagination affected their social and political world. Originality was essential to them and to be derivative was a cardinal sin.
The writer Rebecca Solnit says that, “people have always been good at imagining the end of the world, which is much easier to picture than the strange sidelong paths of change in a world without end.”
Here at Hatchery we are finding our way through the fog, looking for those strange pathways that might lead us into the unknown future. As Joe Strummer, lead-singer of The Clash, once said, “the future is unwritten.” Like the Wanderer’s vision of a world and a horizon shrouded in fog, our future is an unknown commodity; it’s difficult sometimes to know where things are headed or how they will turn out. But the answer lies, not on the top of a mountain looking down and wondering, but by going down into the mist and finding our way through to new horizons and futures yet to be determined.