Caspar David Friedrich

The Invention of Romanticism

Thirty years after the last major retrospective of Caspar David Friedrich’s oeuvre in Germany, the exhibition »Caspar David Friedrich. The Invention of Romanticism« at the Hamburger Kunsthalle provides a deep and revealing insight into the work of this outstanding artist.

Romanticism has become a talking point again – in the realms of art and literature as well as in the worlds of advertising and entertainment. This seems quite logical when one considers that the growing individualization of contemporary society and the wholesale aestheticization of the world we live in both have their origins in Romanticism. It is all the more important, therefore, for us to reflect on the beginnings of Romanticism and consider the original ideas of the early Romantics. They responded to a disenchanted reality by focussing on questions of unity, wholeness and the meaning of life, creating a counterworld to the uniformity and conventionality of the emerging bourgeois culture – a counterconcept that continues to hold appeal.

Having been virtually forgotten in his lifetime, Caspar David Friedrich was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century and is now regarded as the most important German Romantic painter. Over the past decades, Friedrich’s work has gained increasing recognition throughout Europe, Russia and the United States, and he now occupies an internationally acknowledged position as one of the preeminent artists of the 19th century.

Since these two anniversary exhibitions at 1974, there has been a huge increase in research into Friedrich’s work, which has also resulted in some controversial interpretations of his work. Two main lines of interpretation have emerged: the religious and the political readings of Friedrich’s motifs. In contrast to these at times one-sided approaches based upon a symbolic interpretation, the current exhibition in Essen and Hamburg emphasizes the artistic significance of his oeuvre above all, i.e. the question as to the »invention of Romanticism«. This primarily relates to the issue of pictorial invention in Friedrich’s art – in terms of the fictitiousness of his depictions of nature, which combine realistic detail with abstract composition. Moreover, the title of the exhibition refers to the epoch-making changes brought about by Romanticism – its influence not only upon art but also on ways of thinking and feeling in the bourgeois age. Contrary to the common 20th-century association of Romanticism with emotionality and imprecision, this display draws attention to the precision and constructiveness of Friedrich’s works, and to the artist’s calculated awareness of their impact.

A large number of Friedrich’s masterpieces will be on show, thanks in particular to the overwhelming generosity of the main lenders in Berlin, Dresden, Hamburg and St. Petersburg. The exhibition brings together more than 70 oil paintings, as well as over 100 watercolours, pencil and sepia drawings, from around 50 international museums and private collections. The presentation of the exhibition in Hamburg follows its initial showing at the Museum Folkwang from 5 May to 20 August 2006.

Partner der Hamburger Kunsthalle: E.ON