Caspar David Friedrich
Greifswald 1774 – 1840 Dresden
„Mittelgebirgslandschaft“. Circa 1828
Watercolour over pencil on paper. 14,5 × 20,6 cm (5 ¾ × 8 ⅛ in.) Grummt 923. 
ProvenanceJohan Christian Clausen Dahl, Dresden / Georg Bull, Christiania (1906) / O. Braae Johannessen, Oslo (1970) / C. G. Boerner, Düsseldorf / Private Collection, Northern Germany
EUR 200.000 – 300.000
USD 246,000 – 369,000
250,000 EUR (incl. premium)
ExhibitionAusstellung German Kunst aus der Zeit von 1775–1875. Berlin, Royal National Gallery, 1906, cat. no. 2454 / Goethezeit und Romantik. Einhundert Meisterzeichnungen aus einer Privatsammlung. Hannover/Lübeck, 1990/91, p. 110, cat. no. 41, ill. p. 111 / Caspar David Friedrich. Pinturas y dibujos. Madrid, Prado, 1992, cat. no. 84, ill. p. 241
Literature and IllustrationSigrid Hinz: Caspar David Friedrich als Zeichner. Greifswald, Univ., Diss., 1966 (typescript), no. 754 / Werner Sumowski: Caspar David Friedrich-studies. Wiesbaden, Franz Steiner Verlag, 1970, p. 164, ill. 366 / Helmut Börsch-Supan and Karl Wilhelm Jähnig: Caspar David Friedrich. Munich, Prestel, 1973, cat. no. 499 / Marianne Bernhard (ed.): Caspar David Friedrich. Das gesamte graphische Werk. Munich, Rogner & Bernhard, 1974, ill. p. 758 / auction 82: Hamburg, F. Dörling, 13.12.1974, cat. no. 2501, ill. pl. 16 / Brigitte Heise (ed.): Zum Sehen geboren. Handzeichnungen der Goethezeit und des 19. Jahrhunderts. Leipzig, E. A. Seemann, 2007, p. 70–71, colour ill. p. 70 and pl. p. 77
The re-evaluation of the œuvre of Caspar David Friedrich that led to what by rights may be termed the artist’s rediscovery in the early 20th century focused not just on his major works, which have by now become iconic, but on his drawings and water colours as well. A key milestone in this context was the 1906 Jahrhundertausstellung deutscher Kunst (Centenary Exhibition of German Art), curated by the likes of Hugo von Tschudi, Alfred Lichtwark, Woldemar von Seidlitz, and Julius Meier-Graefe. Here, Friedrich was represented not only by over 30 of his paintings, but also by a selection of drawings and water colours, including the folio presented here. In his introduction to the show’s catalogue, von Tschudi argued that Friedrich’s art merited a decidedly new evaluation, and it is safe to assume that these delicate, deceptively unassuming water colours played a key role in his thinking. Indeed, von Tschudi might well have had the Mittelgebirgslandschaft (of circa 1828) in mind when he wrote his succinct reasoning for why Friedrich should be seen as an important figure in the evolution of open-air painting and Impressionism: “Given that the essential thing is to reproduce atmospheric life – nature as it changes during the seasons and times of day – it follows that entirely new motifs can be added to the range of what may be shown, motifs that were previously overlooked by the strictly formally trained eye: The brown field bathed in a sunset glow [...], the slightly undulating hill country over which the silvery aroma of a pale spring day hovers, the flat waves of a Bohemian mountain range interspersed with churning, morning mists – this is the subject matter of Friedrich’s paintings, in which we discern the beginnings of an evolution that continues to shape our own era as well.”
Friedrich’s water colour is devoid of any eye-catching motif, sensationalistic natural scenery or dramatic colouring, yet still manages to draw and hold the viewer’s gaze. At first, the vista selected by the artist from Dresden seems quite nondescript, and in fact, it has not been possible to this day to precisely identify the landscape depicted. This said, the motif and visual framing obviously were selected with an idea in mind, since they allowed Friedrich to experiment in an impressive manner with the image’s twofold structuring, both as concerns the spaces it opens up and the surfaces it highlights. Its parallel lines and clashing diagonals turn out to be silhouetted terrain edges and hill ridges staggered one behind the other, a spatial configuration unobtrusively yet effectively accentuated by the delicate water colouring. Yet these same diagonals also form a meshwork across the picture’s surface, giving it a complex order all its own. The basic underlying structure is defined by the mirror-image symmetry between the upward slope of the lowermost grassy knoll and the uppermost diagonal line of the down-trending mountain range. Inserted between these two boundaries are several additional slopes, often lined with trees and usually kept in parallel to the two predominant diagonals in the fore and background. A few bright streaks, which lay bare the almost colourless background paper, as well as sparsely applied, vaguely reddish accents loosen up the rather formal arrangement, thereby avoiding any impression of monotony.
It is not known whether there is a preliminary sketch directly connected to the water colour. Based on similar works, however, we can assume that, here too, Friedrich must have based the landscape on an exact study he drew on location. Thus, the water colour is a prime example of Friedrich’s ability to combine a faithful reproduction of nature with intense visual creativity. As the meticulously arranged composition makes clear, the folio demands to be seen not just as a veduta, but as an image in its own right.
The water colour’s format, technique, and composition all suggest that it is directly related to other panoramas of the area around Teplice (Teplitz). Indeed, it probably forms part of a coherent series of water colours whose motifs include a mountainous landscape near Teplice (Grummt 916), the baroque church of Bořislav (Boreslau) (Grummt 922), a North Bohemian landscape (Grummt 924, long-since lost), and potentially also a panorama with ruins (Grummt 921) and a view of Mount Kletschen (Grummt 913). If we assume that the last of the aforementioned folios fits into this particular series, we can deduce that the water colours could not have been made before 1827 (based on a watermark on the Whatman paper used for the view of Mt. Kletschen). We also have a number of indications that these water colours were the result of a trip to the Teplice region which Friedrich took in May 1828. In fact, Friedrich created several of such series of views of regions, one of them showing the Riesengebirge (Giant Mountains). This is very much in the tradition of the voyage pittoresque or “picturesque excursion,” which inspired the artist already in his early work. Yet Friedrich interpreted this serial visual form in a novel, quite idiosyncratic way, in that he ignored the convention of focusing on particularly charming or spectacular motifs.
This choice on the artist’s part probably does much to explain why the motif of this water colour has never been reliably identified. The closest matches are views of the direct environs of Teplice to be seen in a sepia drawing by Adrian Zingg and in a folio whose attribution to Friedrich is contested (Grummt 528). The conclusion that the present water colour shows this same landscape from a slightly altered perspective is buttressed by the fact that the other water colours most closely related to the present folio also show motifs found around Teplice. If Friedrich’s water colour is indeed an elaboration of a preliminary sketch drawn on location in this region, then this study was probably intended to open up an entirely new and unfamiliar look at the landscape, rather than offering an instantly recognizable motif such as the town of Teplice or its nearby Castle Hill.
By Johannes Grave
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