Caspar David Friedrich - Chalk Cliffs on RügenOil on canvas, 1818, 98,4 cm × 74,8 cm, Hamburger Kunsthalle in Hamburg

What a view!


Description and interpretation of the famous painting 'Chalk Cliffs on Rügen' by Caspar David Friedrich!

Caspar David Friedrich - Chalk Cliffs on Rügen

The Rügen chalk cliffs, as once depicted by Caspar David Friedrich, are only partly preserved in the picturesque form he testified to. But this picture is so well-known that many people can immediately evoke the picture of the romantic-looking view with the pointedly towering chalk cliffs in front of their mind's eye.

The visual memory does not deceive us. As viewers we step into a wondrous spectacle of worship of nature. The eye of the beholder is directed like a suction over the three persons, a woman at the left edge and two men, over the fairytale-like chalk cliffs to the sea. Gradually our view glides along the rocks. In between there is a small boat and a clearly defined sailing ship is somewhat moved out of the middle. The view is framed by expansive treetops.

As simple as the picture may seem, the art-historical sovereignty of interpretation over the Winterthur painting is lost in countless controversies. This results directly from the structure and composition of almost all of Friedrich's paintings, in which the viewer plays a very important role alongside the staff. For the artist constructed different narrative structures on top of each other for the "viewer" and combined them with his own desires. This varies from a deep religious connection with nature to a philosophical-political statement that has not lost sight of the social upheavals since the French Revolution.

The motif of looking into the distance, for example, is an expression of a sensual perception of space, which we generally fail to recognize as "romantic" at this point. However, there is another dimension to the image - that of abstraction. Caspar David Friedrich put his picture together as a composition, i.e. from three views. In doing so, he created an environment that cannot be precisely determined topographically and thus only corresponds to an approximate reality. But that's not all: the sea already shows the formal language of abstract painting and makes Friedrich not only a painter of romanticism, but also a pioneer of modernism.

© the artinspector / stephan franck