Why Caspar David Friedrich’s Painting Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1818) a Romantic Masterpiece, Evoking the Power of the Sublime (Open Culture, January 8th, 2024)

When Caspar David Friedrich completed Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer, or Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, in 1818, it “was not well received.” So says gallerist-Youtuber James Payne in his new Great Art Explained video above, which focuses on Friedrich’s most famous painting. In the artist’s lifetime, the Wanderer in fact “marked the gradual decline of Friedrich’s fortunes.” He withdrew from society, and in 1835, “he suffered a stroke that left the left side of his body effectively paralyzed, effectively ending his career.” How, over the centuries since, did this once-ill-fated painting become so iconic that many of us now see it referenced every few weeks?

Friedrich had known popular and critical scorn before. His first major commission, painted in 1808, was “an altarpiece which shows a cross in profile at the top of a mountain, alone and surrounded by pine trees. Hard for us to understand now, but it caused a huge scandal.” This owed in part to the lack of traditional perspective in its composition, which presaged the feeling of boundlessness — overlaid with “rolling mists and fogs” — that would characterize his later work. But more to the point, “landscape had never been considered a suitable genre for overtly religious themes. And of course, normally the crucifixion is shown as a human narrative populated by human figures, not Christ dying alone.”