Caspar David Friedrich, The Sea of Ice

Caspar David Friedrich, The Sea of Ice, oil on canvas, 1823-24

Last Tuesday, Melbourne was recorded as being the most freezing city on earth at 6am, which is one reason why I thought it would be poignant to look at Friedrich’s work, The Sea of Ice.

German-born Caspar David Friedrich was a nineteenth-century Romantic landscape painter, and alongside other Romantic painters, he helped position landscape painting as a major genre within Western art. In his generation, he was a significant painter, and like so many artists, his work gained recognition after his death in 1840.

Landscapes have a magical quality of being able to convey the artists’ feelings of pain, love and suffering just as powerfully as figurative work, or prose. Looking past the connection we can make with the temperature of this work and wintery Melbourne mornings, Friedrich believed that the harshness of nature could console the sorrow of the human condition. When contemplating the violent collision of the ice sheets in his work, it takes us out of ourselves and moves us beyond our own problems in life, reducing our sense of personal persecution, rendering us insignificant in the natural world, much like the tiny toppled ship in the mass of broken ice. Many of Friedrich’s stark, beautiful landscapes give us access to a state of mind where we are acutely aware of the largeness of space and helps us reframe our sadness.

Art collector Johann Gottlob von Quandt commissioned The Sea of Ice, however, its composition was deemed too radical and the painting was sold after Friedrich’s death.

Written by Lauren Ottaway

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