Caspar David Friedrich
Chalk Cliffs on Rugen

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    • Oil on canvas: 90.5 x 71 cm
    • Stiftung Oskar Reinhart
    • 1818-19

As in his famous painting, The Wanderer above a Sea of Fog, this picture of the chalk cliffs on the German Island of Rügen in the Baltic Sea is more than just a pretty landscape. Again it presents a personal and private view, with the figures looking at the sea and cliffs, inviting us to do the same.

Friedrich, like Constable in this regard, did not expect the general public to understand his point. Although Friedrich was personally deeply conservative and no critic of either society or religion, his understanding of the purpose of art made him an outsider. It was his fate to be, for most of his productive years, profoundly misunderstood. Never popular with the public, Friedrich continued to pursue "the expressive view of art," that is he continued to paint lovely pictures whose focus seemed too private, too personal to be accepted by others.

Note in this picture, for example, that despite his extraordinary abilities to paint trees and sea, the focus is not on their beauty alone. Rather the viewer is forced, like the figures, to want to look over the edge, which of course we can't.

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