caspar david friedrich artwork the abbey
After the exhibition both pictures were bought by king Frederick Wilhelm III for his collection.  Today the paintings hang side by side in the Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin.
Eldena Abbey may well have had personal meaning for Friedrich, as it was destroyed during the Thirty Years War by invading Swedish troops, who later used bricks from the abbey to construct fortifications.  In the painting Friedrich draws a parallel between those actions and the use of Greifswald churches as barracks by occupying French soldiers.  Thus, the funeral becomes a symbol of “the burial of Germany’s hopes for resurrection”. 
Along with the writings that reveal his state of mind as he worked on these paintings, the decision to create these works as a cycle supports them being viewed as a visual expression of the examination of life from beginning to end (or morning to evening). A poetic expression on life, they are the visual representation of the Romantic view of life, death, and the divine.
Set against a vivid blue sky, the focal point of the painting is the wreckage of a ship that has crashed into the ice and the rocks of the shore. On the right of the canvas, a small portion of a ship’s hull is visible rising out from broken chunks of ice.
After the exhibition both pictures were bought by king Frederick Wilhelm III for his collection. Today the paintings hang side by side in the Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin.
The picture appeared at a time when Friedrich had his first public success and critical acknowledgment with the controversial Tetschener Altar. Although Friedrich’s paintings are landscapes, he designed and painted them in his studio, using freely drawn plein air sketches, from which he chose the most evocative elements to integrate into an expressive composition. The Abbey in the Oakwood is based upon studies of the ruins of Eldena Abbey, which reappear in several other paintings. The same trees, in slightly altered forms, can also be seen in other works.
The Abbey in the Oakwood’ (1809/10, Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin) is probably Caspar David Friedrich’s most famous painting of the ruins of Eldena Abbey.
Friedrich’s different versions of the ruins can be interpreted in a number of ways. On the one hand, they can be interpreted as metaphors of transience; on the other hand, they can be understood as tributes to former historical greatness or monuments of Christian piety.
With Monk by the Sea (1808-1810) and The Abbey in the Oakwood (1809-1810) by Caspar David Friedrich, the Nationalgalerie in Berlin is the custodian of perhaps the most famous pair of paintings from the period of German Romanticism. Since Heinrich von Kleist’s first essay, the paintings have inspired many different interpretations, and to this day are one of the central attractions on the Museumsinsel.
Caspar David Friedrich uses a very fine, primed canvas for both paintings with several layers of ground. The paint was applied in one to two very thin layers. Because of this, the paintings were immediately exceptionally prone to damage, affecting the paintwork as well as mechanical damage and the results of ageing. The condition of the paintings had already deteriorated considerably by 1900. From 1906, they were subjected to intensive restoration work of varying quality. The loss of the original substance of the paintings was considerable. Large, discoloured patches of retouching, overpainting and extremely discoloured layers of varnish detracted from the appearance of the paintings as well as further damage caused by transport and lining.