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Art at Kew

Caspar David Friedrich


Caspar David Friedrich was born on 5 September 1774. An 18th century German Romantic painter, he achieved high acclaim from his peers and critics and was thought to be one of the finest Romantics of his time. In 1794 he took a big step forward into the world of art when he gained a place at the prestigious art academy in Copenhagen. His work explored the concept of merging the real world with the spiritual.


Friedrich began working with Indian and sepia inks to create his drawings and also painted using watercolours, which suited his detailed naturalistic style. It was not until he was about thirty years old that he discovered painting with oils. Later his work became more symbolic, which was often presented symmetrically, as can be seen in the picture `Cross on the Mountain'. Friedrich's style of painting, which is somewhere between graphic and Fig 1. The Abbey in the Oakwood naturalistic, means that his treatment of the landscape, in particular the trees, is very striking, yet the scene retains its natural beauty. This is a technique that the artist uses to give his landscapes an ethereal quality, often back-lighting them to enhance their importance.


Although Friedrich began his life painting under the banner of Romanticism, he found himself being labelled as a precursor to Surrealism by artists such as Max Ernst, who valued his visionary treatment of landscapes and symbolism. Friedrich himself felt that: "The painter should paint not only what he has in front of him, but also what he sees inside himself." He used his paintings to find ways of communicating his belief in `religious mysticism'.

Fig 2. Moonlit Landscape

Art at Kew

Caspar David Friedrich



Creating a silhouette Visit a park or green space and look at the surrounding landscape. Select a tree to draw. Using some black paper and a white pencil or chalk, draw the outline of the tree. Next, cut out your tree shape using a pair of scissors and stick it down onto a larger piece of white paper. If you are working in a group you can use this activity to create a forest effect by using a long sheet of white paper for the whole group. Mixed Media Working outdoors if possible, or from a book if not, choose a tree and draw its outline on some white paper. Collect leaves and other objects that have fallen from trees or other plants that suit the texture and shape of the tree you are working on. Back in the classroom stick the objects you have found on to the tree outline. See if you can describe the shape, texture and colour of the tree using the items you have collected. Romantic Trees Visit a green space with a group and ask them to observe a number of trees together, treating them as a landscape. Spend time drawing from direct observation, taking in all the qualities of the trees you are working from, focusing on light and shade, shape and using a variety of mark-making techniques. Take the drawings back to school and create a sunset, filling in areas between branches and gaps in the trees with soft-coloured light effects. Look at photographs of sunsets to help inspire your use of colour. Sources



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