Caspar David Friedrich in Dresden

Following in the footsteps of Caspar David Friedrich – that sounds like a somewhat sedate travel recommendation. But for the year 2024, Saxony has put together a brilliant and varied cultural program of the traces left by the most important painter of the Romantic period in Dresden and the surrounding area. 2024 marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of the painter, who became world-famous for his landscape paintings such as Chalk Rocks on the Island of Rügen, The Wanderer over the Sea of Fog and Two Men Contemplating the Moon. He spent the longest and most productive period of his life in Dresden and the surrounding area. His works are images of longing that touch people to this day. On social media, his pictures are liked and shared. Yet Friedrich was a slow traveler and also a slow painter. The cursory viewing of his images on Instagram & Co. would probably not have pleased him. On the other hand, he would rub his eyes in wonder at his fame today. For Caspar David Friedrich died ill, impoverished and almost forgotten. His paintings tell of a fateful connection between man and nature, and they also reveal something about the painter’s life and the times in which he lived.

Gemälde von Caspar David Friedrich, Zwei Männer in Betrachtung des Mondes, 1819/1820, Albertinum Dresden / © Foto: Georg Berg
Painting by Caspar David Friedrich, Two Men Contemplating the Moon, 1819/1820, Albertinum Dresden / © Photo: Georg Berg

Encounters with CDF

In 2024, the city of Dresden and Saxon Switzerland will offer the opportunity to encounter Caspar David Friedrich, or CDF for short, in a variety of ways and to get a picture of the man and artist, his sources of inspiration, and a time in transition. The special exhibition Where It All Began by the Dresden State Art Collections in the Albertinum and the Kupferstich-Kabinett in the Residenzschloss is the cultural highlight of the anniversary year. The whole thing is flanked by guided tours and workshops. On curated walking trails, visitors will encounter the motifs of his sketches. A rock formation in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, a pine tree crippled by wind and weather, a boulder, a monastery ruin and much more were sketched by CDF on long hikes and often only integrated into paintings years later in his sparse studio at northern lights.

Fels mit Moos bewachsen auf dem Caspar-David-Friedrich Weg bei Krippen, Sächsische Schweiz. Der Fels findet sich in dem berühmten Gemälde Friedrichs  „Zwei Männer in Betrachtung des Mondes“, 1819 / © Foto: Georg Berg
Rock overgrown with moss on the Caspar-David-Friedrich Weg near Krippen, Saxon Switzerland. The rock is found in the famous painting Friedrichs “Two men in contemplation of the moon”, 1819 / © Photo: Georg Berg

Radically subjective and precise at the same time

When Caspar David Friedrich came to Dresden from Copenhagen in 1798, he found a lively art scene. He is considered, as one would say today, well-connected, yet remains a loner. Over the years, he increasingly set himself apart from his colleagues. Traditions and role models lose their importance for him. He goes out of fashion, his paintings are considered boring, and he never gains a foothold as a lecturer at the Dresden Art Academy. Students find him difficult to understand and prefer to enroll with other teachers. In 1817, even the influential Goethe criticized Friedrich and Romantic painting. But he remains true to his motto that the artist can only create something significant from within himself. Thus, while painting, CDF listens to himself, sees the pictures in his inner eye, and paints landscapes that do not exist at all, but which have an enormous accuracy due to his sketches. From this interplay of subjectivity and precision, works such as the Wanderer over the Sea of Fog, the Great Enclosure or the Bohemian Landscape with Milleschauer Mountain gain their special charisma.

Gemälde von Caspar David Friedrich, Das Große Gehege bei Dresden, 1832, Albertinum / © Foto: Georg Berg
Painting by Caspar David Friedrich, The Great Enclosure near Dresden, 1832, Albertinum / © Photo: Georg Berg

Almost an insider tip. Elias Cemetery in Dresden

In 1840, Caspar David Friedrich died in Dresden at the age of 65, almost completely paralyzed after two strokes. His grave is located in the Trinitatisffriedhof. It is to be redesigned for the anniversary year. This is also urgently necessary. So far, his grave looks like the way his life ended. Pathetic and forgotten. The far more interesting cemetery in relation to Caspar David Friedrich is the Eliasfriedhof. The painter’s extensive and well-preserved oeuvre includes 150 paintings, but also 1,000 drawings, watercolors, etchings and woodcuts. In the Elias Cemetery there are tombstones based on designs by Caspar David Friedrich. They are commissioned works that he had to accept as an artist who had gone out of fashion.

Volker Neumeister vom Förderverein Eliasfriedhof an einer Grabsäule nach dem Entwurf von Caspar David Friedrich. Hier das Grab von Dr Christian Ernst Ulrici, gstorben 1825. Volker Neumeister hält den Entwurf des Malers für ein Pfeilergrabmal mit Kreuz in gotischen Spitzbögen in der Hand / © Foto: Georg Berg
Volker Neumeister of the Eliasfriedhof sponsoring association at a tombstone based on a design by Caspar David Friedrich. Here the grave of Dr. Christian Ernst Ulrici, died 1825. Volker Neumeister holds the painter’s design for a pillar tomb with a cross in Gothic pointed arches / © Photo: Georg Berg

Time seems to have stood still at the Elias Cemetery in Dresden. Since the closure of the baroque Camposanto in 1876, hardly any changes have been made here. Gravestones in a great variety of forms tell of 200 years of history of the residential city of Dresden. The cemetery is not open to the public. However, the sponsoring association offers regular guided tours. A total of four gravestones based on designs by Caspar David Friedrich have been preserved here.

Auf dem Eliasfriedhof in Dresden scheint die Zeit still zu stehen. Grabsteine in großer Formenvielfalt erzählen aus 200 Jahren Geschichte der Residenzstadt Dresden / © Foto: Georg Berg
Elias Cemetery in Dresden. Gravestones in a great variety of forms tell of 200 years of history of the residential city of Dresden / © Photo: Georg Berg

Albertinum and Museum of Prints and Drawings

In 2024, a festival year will be held throughout Germany in honor of Caspar David Friedrich. The cycle will span from the Hamburger Kunsthalle to the Nationalgalerie Berlin and the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden. This will be followed in 2025 by a major retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The Albertinum owns numerous masterpieces by the Romantic artist, which have their place in the permanent exhibition. For the anniversary year, the paintings from the museum’s own collection will be examined in the restoration workshop to determine their condition. There will be no loans from the USA or museums in Germany and Europe. The effort would be too great, also in view of the transport costs and the ecological footprint. For the paintings, which are around 200 years old, every journey is a risk. Preserving the art for future generations takes precedence over the desire to put on a big show for a particular occasion.

Werk von Caspar David Friedrich, "Böhmische Landschaft mit dem Milleschauer Berg" von 1808 zur kunsttechnologischen Untersuchung in der Restaurationswerkstatt des Albertinums in Dresden. Im Vorfeld der Sonderausstellung zum 250. Geburtstag des Malers werden alle Werke im Bestand des Albertinums begutachtet / © Foto: Georg Berg
Work by Caspar David Friedrich, “Bohemian Landscape with the Milleschau Mountain” from 1808 for art technological examination in the Albertinum’s restoration workshop. In the run-up to the special exhibition marking the 250th anniversary of the painter’s birth, all works in the Albertinum’s holdings are being examined / © Photo: Georg Berg
Im Restaurationsatelier Albertinum in Dresden. Detail des Rahmens und Rückwand der Originalleinwand "Böhmische Landschaft mit dem Milleschauer Berg" von 1808 von Caspar David Friedrich. Proben der Leinwandfasern werden für eine kunsttechnologische Untersuchung aus dem Spannrahmen genommen. Untersuchung anlässlich der Sonderausstellung zum 250. Geburtstag des Malers 2024 / © Foto: Georg Berg
Curator and conservator Dr. Holger Birkholz and conservator Maria Körber, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden look at “Bohemian Landscape with the Milleschau Mountain” from 1808 by Caspar David Friedrich. Samples of the canvas fibers are taken from the stenter frame for an art technological examination / © Photo: Georg Berg

Sketches for the big picture

To get to the bottom of the very unique character of Friedrich’s paintings, a visit to the exhibition in the Kupferstich-Kabinett is also recommended in 2024. There, drawings and a sketchbook will be on display, which for conservation reasons can only be exposed to light for a limited time. The sketch is the part of Friedrich’s work that stands between the painting and the source of inspiration. Notes and marks on the sketches reveal much about his working method.

Zwei Zeichnungen, Heiligkreuz Ruine bei Meißen von Caspar David Friedrich, im Kupferstichkabinett in Dresden. Hier werden 70 Zeichnungen und ein Skizzenbuch aufbewahrt. Zum 250. Geburtstag des Malers 2024 ist eine Sonderausstellung geplant / © Foto: Georg Berg
Two drawings, Heiligkreuz Ruin near Meissen by Caspar David Friedrich, in the Kupferstichkabinett in Dresden. Here 70 drawings and a sketchbook are kept. A special exhibition is planned for the 250th anniversary of the painter’s birth in 2024 / © Photo: Georg Berg
Heiligkreuz Ruine bei Meißen. Die verfallene Klosteranlage diente auch als Motiv für Zeichnungen von Caspar David Friedrich / © Foto: Georg Berg
Heiligkreuz Ruin near Meissen. The dilapidated monastery complex also served as a motif for drawings by Caspar David Friedrich / © Photo: Georg Berg

Is Romanticism really romantic?

Contrary to popular belief, the Romantic era was not romantic in the modern sense. The Romantics had a preference for the dark and abysmal, saw themselves in opposition to the bourgeoisie and liked to mock the bourgeois. Thus, romanticism derives from the novelistic and refers to an exaggerated mode of expression that appeals to the emotions. The landscape of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains offered Romantic painters an impressive natural backdrop: gloomy gorges and bizarre rock formations at sunrise and sunset, with wafts of mist and in the moonlight. All this can still be marveled at 200 years later. Unlike back then, with well-developed hiking trails, places to stop for refreshments and ferry connections across the Elbe.

Nebel im Elbtal, Blick von Bad Schandau nach Krippen, Sächsische Schweiz. Ab Krippen startet der Caspar-David-Friedrich Wanderweg / © Foto: Georg Berg
Fog in the Elbe valley, view from Bad Schandau to Krippen, Saxon Switzerland. The Caspar-David-Friedrich hiking trail starts from Krippen / © Photo: Georg Berg
Utterwalder Felsentor. Elbsandsteingebirge. Nationalpark Sächsische Schweiz. Motiv und Inspirationsort des Malers Caspar David Friedrich im 19. Jahrhundert / © Foto: Georg Berg
Utterwalder rock gate. Elbe Sandstone Mountains. Saxon Switzerland National Park. Motif and place of inspiration of the painter Caspar David Friedrich in the 19th century / © Photo: Georg Berg

Painter’s Path and Caspar David Friedrich Path

Caspar David Friedrich traveled leisurely on foot. Carriage rides, it is said, were too fast for him. A slow traveler in a gray traveling coat, he could linger for hours in one place to make detailed sketches. Back in his sparse, north-facing studio, he pieced together his studies into landscapes. They could show vastness and look into the distance or depict darkness and abysses. So if you are a modern traveler and want to discover for yourself what still makes Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings so appealing today, there is plenty on offer in the year of his 250th birthday to pay attention, true to the painter’s motto, not only to “what he sees in front of him, but also to what he sees within him.”

Kiefer und Berghang auf dem Caspar-David-Friedrich Wanderweg. Die Kiefer war ein Motiv, das der Maler in sein Skizzenbuch übertrug / © Foto: Georg Berg
Pine tree and mountainside on the Caspar David Friedrich hiking trail. The pine tree a motif that the painter transferred to his sketchbook / © Photo: Georg Berg
Hinweisschilder Wanderwege in der Sächsischen Schweiz. Der Malerweg führt entlang einiger inspirierender Orte der Künstler der Romantik, wie Caspar David Friedrich / © Foto: Georg Berg
Signposts hiking trails in Saxon Switzerland. The Malerweg leads along some inspiring places of the artists of the Romantic period, such as Caspar David Friedrich / © Photo: Georg Berg

Highlights 2024 Caspar David Friedrich in Dresden

The research trip was supported on site by Tourismus Marketing Gesellschaft Sachsen.

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