david caspar friedrich paintings
With its striking white chalk cliffs, Rügen was – and still is – a popular North German tourist destination. The painting was executed during a brief period of hope – both in Friedrich’s personal life and in the political life of the German nation. In the summer of 1818, Friedrich was on his honeymoon: the woman in the red dress is almost certainly his bride, Caroline. Friedrich himself is the figure in the middle. The man dressed in the old German costume of the student fraternities that formed in the wake of the Congress of Vienna represents the liberal nationalists who, at the time, were still basking in Frederick William III”s promise of constitutional and democratic reforms.
Caspar David Friedrich, Two Men Contemplating the Moon, ca. 1825–30, Metropolitan Museum of Art
During the 1930s, Friedrich’s work was used in the promotion of Nazi ideology,  which attempted to fit the Romantic artist within the nationalistic Blut und Boden.  It took decades for Friedrich’s reputation to recover from this association with Nazism. His reliance on symbolism and the fact that his work fell outside the narrow definitions of modernism contributed to his fall from favour. In 1949, art historian Kenneth Clark wrote that Friedrich “worked in the frigid technique of his time, which could hardly inspire a school of modern painting”, and suggested that the artist was trying to express in painting what is best left to poetry.   Clark’s dismissal of Friedrich reflected the damage the artist’s reputation sustained during the late 1930s. 
Following the purchase of two of his paintings by the Prussian Crown Prince, Friedrich was elected a member of the Berlin Academy in 1810.  Yet in 1816, he sought to distance himself from Prussian authority and applied that June for Saxon citizenship. The move was not expected; the Saxon government was pro-French, while Friedrich’s paintings were seen as generally patriotic and distinctly anti-French. Nevertheless, with the aid of his Dresden-based friend Graf Vitzthum von Eckstädt, Friedrich attained citizenship, and in 1818, membership in the Saxon Academy with a yearly dividend of 150 thalers.  Although he had hoped to receive a full professorship, it was never awarded him as, according to the German Library of Information, “it was felt that his painting was too personal, his point of view too individual to serve as a fruitful example to students.”  Politics too may have played a role in stalling his career: Friedrich’s decidedly Germanic subjects and costuming frequently clashed with the era’s prevailing pro-French attitudes. 
Caspar David Friedrich (September 5, 1774 – May 7, 1840) was a landscape painter of the nineteenth-century German Romantic movement, of which he is now considered the most important painter. A painter and draughtsman, Friedrich is best known for his later allegorical landscapes, which feature contemplative figures silhouetted against night skies, morning mists, barren trees, and Gothic ruins. His primary interest as an artist was the contemplation of nature, and his often symbolic and anti-classical work seeks to convey the spiritual experiences of life.
Friedrich was born in Greifswald in northern Germany in 1774. He studied in Copenhagen until 1798 before settling in Dresden. He came of age during a period when, across Europe, a growing disillusionment with an over-materialistic society led to a new appreciation for spiritualism. This was often expressed through a reevaluation of the natural world, as artists such as Friedrich, J. M. W. Turner and John Constable sought to depict nature as a “divine creation, to be set against the artifice of human civilization”.
Friedrich’s work brought him renown early in his career, and contemporaries such as the French sculptor David d’Angers spoke of him as a man who had discovered “the tragedy of landscape”. Nevertheless, his work fell from favour during his later years, and he died in obscurity. As Germany moved towards modernisation in the late 19th century, a new sense of urgency characterised its art, and Friedrich’s contemplative depictions of stillness came to be seen as the products of a bygone age. The early 20th century brought a renewed appreciation of his work, beginning in 1906 with an exhibition of thirty-two of his paintings and sculptures in Berlin. By the 1920s his paintings had been discovered by the Expressionists, and in the 1930s and early 1940s Surrealists and Existentialists frequently drew ideas from his work. The rise of Nazism in the early 1930s again saw a resurgence in Friedrich’s popularity, but this was followed by a sharp decline as his paintings were, by association with the Nazi movement, interpreted as having a nationalistic aspect. It was not until the late 1970s that Friedrich regained his reputation as an icon of the German Romantic movement and a painter of international importance.
Caspar David Friedrich was born on 5 September 1774, in Greifswald, Swedish Pomerania, on the Baltic coast of Germany. The sixth of ten children, he was brought up in the strict Lutheran creed of his father Adolf Gottlieb Friedrich, a candle-maker and soap boiler. Records of the family’s financial circumstances are contradictory; while some sources indicate the children were privately tutored, others record that they were raised in relative poverty. Caspar David was familiar with death from an early age. His mother, Sophie Dorothea Bechly, died in 1781 when he was just seven. A year later, his sister Elisabeth died, while a second sister, Maria, succumbed to typhus in 1791. Arguably the greatest tragedy of his childhood happened in 1787 when his brother Johann Christoffer died: at the age of thirteen, Caspar David witnessed his younger brother fall through the ice of a frozen lake, and drown. Some accounts suggest that Johann Christoffer perished while trying to rescue Caspar David, who was also in danger on the ice.
This painting was not easily understood or appreciated when it was first created. It did not comply with either the expectations that such a scene of destruction should be rendered picturesque or else overtly moralized. Many contemporaries failed to understand the work and one critic wrote, “If only the ice painting of the North Pole would melt once and for all.”
Oil on canvas – Collection of Lower Saxony State Museum, Hanover, Germany