Caspar David Friedrich and romantic pictures in painting, poetry & music…
(notes & quotes on 19th century romanticism; see previous post...)
"You paint the way you have to in order to give, that’s life itself"
(Franz Kline, c. 1954)
"What can be learned from pictures, perhaps, is how to bring out the mysterious tale told by interlocking forms"
(James Merrill, c. 1960, in Poets on Painters).
Friedrich’s landscapes do “not so much place you as embrace you…they display you to yourself…the solitude confronts you…confronts your true arrival to the landscape, your embarkation on a Winterreise.” (Koerner: C.D.F. & The Subject of Landscape)
Erlebniskunst. Art from experience. Real-life art.
One of Friedrich’s romantic themes was to “characterize the way meaning per se is or is not present in objects…Friedrich’s landscapes will remain properly open-ended.”
Fir Trees in the Snow, 1828. (Todesjahr Schuberts. As the anniversary of an artist’s death is remembered in the German world…)
Rückenfigur. The “turned figure.” Schubert’s “Rückblick” from Winterreise. Look back.
Mark Strand says spending time with Edward Hopper’s “suburban landscapes” means being amidst “an oddness, a disturbing quiet, a sense of being in a room with a man who insists on being with us, but always with his back turned.”
Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818. The quintessential romantic wanderer – loner – poet – painter – thinker – artist – rebel – outcast – exile – pilgrim – visionary landscape portrait.
Eigentümlichkeit. “Peculiarity,” “characteristic quality” &/or “strangeness.” Literally meaning “one’s own” (eigen), “property” (Eigentum), “actually” (eigentlich) and lastly, literally “strange, eccentric” (eigentümlichkeit).
The sui generis writer Novalis embodies eigentümlichkeit as romantic virtue in his poetic musings.
The world must become romanticized. That way one finds again the original meaning...When I confer upon the commonplace a higher meaning, upon the ordinary an enigmatic experience, I romanticize it. The operation is reversed for the higher, unknown, mystical, infinite.
Do try this at home, dear reader(s). Lavish upon nature’s landscape the aesthete’s lofty praise. Deduce the mysteries of the cosmos from a moonscape and set it down, even a scrap, a fragment even…
Two Men Contemplating the Moon. Moonrise at Sea. Sea of Ice.
Comparing the last sets of songs Schubert wrote to poems by Rellstab and Heine, is like respectively comparing “landscape with moonscape” according to Graham Johnson.
Nocturnal. Mysterious. Mystical. Supernatural. Fantastic. Fear. Shadow. Forbidden. Hidden. Holy. Dark…
Heine’s “misty visions” are poems where “beneath the blurred and atmospheric contours…is a core of German seriousness.” As if in a landscape by Friedrich.
Turning back to the romantic wanderer as loner, outsider, exile, outcast and insane, and remembering the “mad poets” Clare, Smart and Hölderlin, we Rückblich to Friedrich.
Hölderlin is one of the great masters of the poetic fragment as complete-unto-itself. An exemplar of Coleridge’s fragmentary etudes “described and exemplified.” Here is Coleridge’s “The Homeric Hexameter” in its entirety:
Strongly it bears us along in swelling and limitless billows,
Nothing before and nothing behind but the sky and the ocean.
Fragments suggest ruins. Ruins recall antiquity. Antiquity inspires the romantics through unrealized ideals, mythical & magical metamorphoses & transformations. Connecting to mythology becomes a source of not only creative stimulus, but strength and sustenance to the artist. “German seriousness” has always looked south to the Mediterranean world for the inspiration of nature, yet another fabric in this connective tapestry. Since the gods exist only in nature (technology and business rarely intrude on the ancient stages) their stories play out in the natural world and the imagined cosmos beyond it. No wonder the romantics were so in touch with nature.
Here is a typical Hölderlin fragment, called “Once and Now:”
In younger days at dawn I was filled with joy
But wept at sunset; now I am older, now
Each day begins in doubt yet every
Ending of day is calming and holy.
Which Friedrich landscape exemplifies and demonstrates the singular beauties of the fragment? The ruins of the Abby in the Oak Forest, darkly mysterious in crepuscular half-light…or the totemic energy surrounding the Rocky Gorge, the mountainous rocks metamorphosed into leaning towers of ruins…the fragments of The Churchyard landscapes, enigmatic, porous and open-ended…
Monk by the Sea, 1809-1810. Is this landscape, moonscape and seascape,
Camille Paglia reading Wordsworth notes the “romantics put the blame for modern alienation on Cartesian rationalism and Newtonian physics, which sees the world as a machine. ‘We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon’: like Faust, who sought dominance by knowledge, Western culture has sold its soul to the devil – to false idols whose reward (‘boon’) is filthy lucre. For Wordsworth, affluence brings desensitization, a deadening of the heart” (Paglia: Break, Blow, Burn).
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon could be a Friedrich landscape. Paglia cites the image as an example of a poet’s melancholy being lifted by “ecstatic perceptions” as when “we see nature come alive.”
Paglia interweaves colorful threads of myth, psychology & history into her trenchantly provocative criticism. She concludes her discussion of Wordsworth’s sonnet, “The world is too much with us” by commenting on the poet’s romantic and pagan vision. If Wordsworth sees it “too optimistically” he still “glimpses a cosmic unity” using mythology as guide. With help from the shape-shifter Proteus he effects an Ovidian transformation. This “symbolizes nature’s constant metamorphosis” and this is exactly the subject of landscapes. Here is Wordsworth’s beloved poem.
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours:
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. – Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
Art is possessed of mysterious power. If art were not dangerous, censorship would not exist. Not that there is anything in need of censoring here, surely! Or might there be, after a closer reading…The romantic era, in addition to being one of the most fertile and beloved periods of artistic creativity in human history, was a time of great social and political change, of foment, revolution and upheaval. Such words themselves have power to conjure images, stir the blood and engage the senses.
Paglia ends her discussion of Wordsworth’s brand of romanticism by noting his titans, Proteus and Triton operate with “elemental forces robust with the sexuality erased from the Christian Trinity.” Far from a God-hating atheist, Wordsworth’s dream “heals our estrangement” through “Pagan restoration.”
The estrangement and the burning need for restoration are at the heart of the romantic artist’s quest for unity via synthesis. The Hegelian dialectic. The Janus-faced Hero. The artist as “cosmic dancer” (Nietzsche, Campbell) leaping between worlds like a god or titan of mythology. Bringing to life images of the everyday cosmos…These are but the varied and related subjects of landscape painting, lyric poetry and romantic music…