It was a miserable weekend weather-wise – rain, rain, rain and it never really got light, especially on Saturday. By Sunday afternoon I was going a bit stir crazy and decided that I needed some beauty for the day and headed off to the Alte Nationalgalerie on the Museumsinsel in Berlin. I had asked a friend to come along who was feeling similarly in need of art and together we made a beeline for the wonderful paintings of Germany’s foremost romantic painter – the great Caspar David Friedrich.
I have to admit to being particularly partial to his work – when we did some rudimentary art history at school, my teacher introduced us to his work and I have been a big fan ever since. Something in his view of the world spoke to my teenage self – the gloom of his engravings, dark nature, owls, death and the facts that his people never really dominate the landscapes but become a part of it. This is particularly the case with one of his most famous works – “Kreidefelsen auf Rügen” (Chalk cliffs of Ruegen): the man on the right looks anchored to the ground, the roots of the tree he is leaning against quite literally grow out of his shoes. The other two by contrast look like they holding on for dear life, not part of nature but somehow a disruptive force. I devoured all the books I could find on Friedrich and even tried to copy some of his work – my mum still has my efforts framed and hanging in the kitchen!
Caspar David Friedrich was the reason I went on to study art history and even if I ended up concentrating on the French Revolution – German Romanticism wasn’t offered at my university – I have always loved his work.
I remember a dispute over one particular painting between the National Gallery in London and a museum in Dortmund over who had the genuine Friedrich, in the end it was the one in London considered the “real” Friedrich and the only one in a museum in London. Berlin has a much bigger collection of Friedrich’s work and many of the very popular and well-known once such as “The Monk by the Sea” – it was absolutely fantastic to see them all in one room. The visit definitely achieved the aim – both my friend and I felt uplifted by the beauty and calm of Friedrich’s paintings and it certainly won’t be long until I go back!