Saturday, February 16, 2008

A morbid melancholy

"The works of Caspar David Friedrich, hitherto almost totally unknown in this country, will be a revelation for the British Art public..." When was this written? 1822? 1872? 1922? It is actually on the back of the Tate Gallery's 1972 Friedrich exhibition catalogue, "the only full-scale publication on Friedrich in English". Well there must have been a lot of books on Friedrich since then, but this catalogue would have set a high standard, with its excellent long essay by William Vaughan and catalogue entries by Helmut Borsch-Supan. Near the end of the catalogue there are an interesting set of 'Reminiscences of Friedrich and his Art', translated by Vaughan with George and Elizabeth Katkov. Here's an extract from one of these, by a younger contemporary, the Dresden landscape painter Adrian Ludwig Richter. His criticism of Friedrich may resonate for those who think Friedrich's art can sometimes feel a little forced:
'... it seems to me that Friedrich's method of conception leads in a false direction, that could be highly epidemic in our time; the majority of his pictures exhale that morbid melancholy, that feverishness that grips every sensitive observer so forcefully, but which always produces a disconsolate feeling - this is not the seriousness, not the character, nor the spirit and importance of nature, this has been imposed onto it. Friedrich chains us to an abstract idea, making use of the forms of nature in a purely allegorical manner, as signs and hieroglyphs - they are made to mean that and that. In nature however, every thing expresses itself; her spirit, her language lies in every shape and colour. A beautiful scene in nature, it is true, also awakes only one feeling (not a thought), but this is so all-embracing, so grand, powerful and intense, that every allegory seems in comparison dried out and shrivelled up. The liberation of the spirit, the feeling of freedom in a broad, beautiful, enlivening space, this is principally what nature can affect us with so beneficially...' (Diary entry, 30 January 1824)

Abbey in an Oak Forest, Caspar David Friedrich, 1809-10
Source: CGFA


N said...


I've been visiting this blog for a while, but it just occurred to me that, as I'm starting a new magazine, you might be interested in writing an article for it.

Anything on art and/or landscapes would be good, and could be any length you like. The first issue is planned for April 1st, but if you needed more time, the article could be run in the following issue.

Here is the site:

You'll find links to the blog as well as submission guidelines. You can send any questions you may have to

I think that a contribution from you would make a great addition to the magazine and I hope to hear from you.

John Wright

Plinius said...

Thanks John, I'll give it some thought. Interesting idea to revive Edgar Allan Poe's old magazine. Poe actually went to school here in Stoke Newington. There's a new book on him by Peter Ackroyd - it's had mixed reviews here.

Anonymous said...

People should read this.