wanderer above the sea of fog analysis
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.  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.  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. 
Robert Macfarlane discusses the painting in terms of its significant influence on how mountain climbing has been viewed in the Western world since the Romantic era, calling it the “archetypical image of the mountain-climbing visionary”, and describing its power in representing the concept that standing on mountain tops is something to be admired, an idea which barely existed in earlier centuries. 
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 painting is particularly gray, with little variation, giving it a somber, almost ominous atmosphere. The rocks, mountains, and fog are gray, and while the water is a deep blue, the splashing of waves is grayish white, further adding to the grayness. The sky is cloudy, so it too is gray. The man is wearing black pants and a black coat with a white shirt collar exposed, and has blonde hair. I think the extensive use of gray is meant to give ambiguity to the scene and over-exaggerate the fogginess of the area.
Like so many of paintings by the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, the images focuses on a person gazing out over nature. We gaze out alongside him, a few paces behind perhaps, but still a companion in the moment. The terms for this device is Rückenfigur, or figure seen from behind, a compositional device by which the viewer can more readily identify with the scene.
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.
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.
Oil on canvas – Collection of Thuringer Landesmuseum Heidecksburg, Rudolstadt, Germany
In Friedrich’s painting, the background captures a flow through the connection between the fog and the cliffs/mountains. The different composition comes together to form a unity through repetition. The repetition with this uniformity creates a rhythm from the white, blue and grey layered brushstrokes on the painting. From the viewer’s eye, movement can be found through this particular rhythm and this makes the painting interesting because movement plays an important role in visual expression. The fog is blurry and looks as if it is swirling around the air through the soft curve/slant of the paint ; the motion provides a sense of liveliness and living on the edge – pun intended. Space is also incorporated in the painting to create an extension of depth and distance. The atmosphere that surrounds the wanderer in the artwork plays an important role in Friedrich’s painting. The dark hue below the wanderer defines the height of the painting, and establishes the space below and in front of the subject. If the cliff below the wanderer is light and the scenery where he faces is dark, then the painting would look flat. Instead, the dark shade of the cliff below the wanderer helps create depth. The painting also uses structure to create an organized whole. The structure of this painting helps create unity or visual equilibrium. In Friedrich’s work, symmetry is shown to help unify the work through the repetition of two halves of the wanderer. For example, the man in the painting reflect two arms and two legs. The painting also incorporates asymmetry on top of symmetry to include more animation, since constant symmetry may produce monotonous results. The asymmetrical aspect of the painting is shown through the different scenery of mountains, cliffs and fog. The differences keep the viewer’s eye on the move and provides incentive for the attention the painting truly deserves.
The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich incorporates multiple design elements to evoke the feelings of self-reflection and the beauty of nature.