the wanderer above the sea of fog

The wanderer above the sea of fog
Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (German: Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer), also known as Wanderer above the Mist or Mountaineer in a Misty Landscape, [1] is an oil painting c. 1818 [2] by the German Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich. It has been considered one of the masterpieces of Romanticism and one of its most representative works. It currently resides in the Kunsthalle Hamburg in Hamburg, Germany.
In the foreground, a young man stands upon a rocky precipice with his back to the viewer. He is wrapped in a dark green overcoat, and grips a walking stick in his right hand. [3] His hair caught in a wind, the wanderer gazes out on a landscape covered in a thick sea of fog. In the middle ground, several other ridges, perhaps not unlike the ones the wanderer himself stands upon, jut out from the mass. [4] Through the wreaths of fog, forests of trees can be perceived atop these escarpments. In the far distance, faded mountains rise in the left, gently leveling off into lowland plains in the right. Beyond here, the pervading fog stretches out indefinitely, eventually commingling with the horizon and becoming indistinguishable from the cloud-filled sky. [3]

The wanderer above the sea of fog
Some meaning of this work is lost in the translation of its title. In German, the title is “Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer”. Wanderer in German can mean either “wanderer” or “hiker”. [11]
Media related to Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer at Wikimedia Commons

The wanderer above the sea of fog
I enjoy this painting for many reasons. I believe it captures the spirit of romanticism while also incorporating its own distinctly German elements to it — if you have even a shallow familiarity with art history, you look at it and just know it’s German. Also, there’s simply the pure aesthetic appeal of the painting: it’s interesting to look at and the suggestions it makes captivates the imagination.
I touched on the spacing a little bit earlier. The waves and fog blur the line of the horizon, so it’s hard to tell where the sea ends and the mountains begin; the fog also contributes to distorting the viewer’s depth perception. This gives the feeling that the sea so vast that it can’t be clearly observed, and also emphasizes the great vastness of nature compared to the minute blip of existence that is mankind.

The wanderer above the sea of fog
Locating and representing the moods of nature was Friedrich’s underpinning as an artist. Born is 1774 in the harbour town of Greifswald, his first subjects were the wild Baltic coastlands of northeastern Germany. Gradually, his depictions of nature began to contain crosses, Gothic buildings and religious motifs reflecting his strict Lutheran upbringing. With these symbols he found a means of heightening the intensity of landscape to a level where it seems heavy with allegory. He often ‘invented’ his paintings by fusing together several sketches from different locations into one image, sometimes even using the sketches made by other artists to fulfill his vision.
What is fascinating about this painting is that it can be approached in the opposite direction — the pessimistic reading — and still make sense: a man racked with doubt looks yearningly out over a vast mountain range. There is a cauldron of swirling mist beneath his feet. He is all alone in this place, in whose limitless dimensions he recognises, by contrast, his own uncertain existence.

The wanderer above the sea of fog
Use of technique:
Once again Friedrich employs the Ruckenfugen technique in which he paints the figure with his back towards the viewer. This makes the figure something of a mystery to the viewer – they are unsure what he is thinking or his reaction to the landscape that they too are taking in.
Tone elicited:
As the viewer cannot see the figure’s face, the tone is questionable. In line with Friedrich’s other works, and the overall Romantic ideal, it seems fitting to believe that this wanderer stands in awe of the spooky nature before him.


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