Review of ‘Caspar David Friedrich’ by Norbert Wolf

This is a beautifully-produced book from Taschen’s ‘Basic Art’ series. It’s a concise look at the life and work of Caspar David Friedrich (1774 – 1840), who is most famous for Romantic paintings such as ‘The Wanderer above a Sea of Mist’ (used for the cover image on my copy of The Last Man by Mary Shelley). He was born in Greifswald, Swedish Pomerania, and settled in Dresden. I was first introduced to his work when studying art at college. We had to flick through some art books and find an image to copy. I chose ‘Morning’, which shows misty pine trees and an apricot sky. A few years ago, I decided to buy this book about him and have recently re-read it.

The book is subtitled ‘The Painter of Stillness’ because Friedrich’s work has this contemplative quality about it, often with small figures gazing at calm seas or out of windows. There is a wonderful comprehensive selection of his work reproduced on these glossy pages, showing the development of his style and subjects, most notably his preoccupation with ruins, graveyards, twisty-branched trees and moody skies. I think the most stunning image is ‘The Monk by the Sea’. I would love to see some of his paintings for real, which would mean going to Germany and visiting galleries which have his work on display.

The writing style of the book is formal yet friendly, inviting you to look at each image multiple times to consider the composition and symbolism. It tells you everything you might want to know about the artist and gives a sense of what kind of person he was – patriotic, hard-working and with a social co science. After an introduction which examines his career in general, there are four chapters of biography, ending with a chronology. At 96 pages, the book can be read in a day. You could of course skip the text and focus on the pictures but they do need some context to be fully appreciated.

This edition was published by Taschen in 2007, translated by Karen Williams.

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