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“Two Men Contemplating the Moon” by Caspar David Friedrich

"Two Men Contemplating the Moon" by Caspar David Friedrich

“Two Men Contemplating the Moon”

by Caspar David Friedrich

“Two Men Contemplating the Moon” by Caspar David Friedrich depicts a foreground scene of two men on a mountain path looking at the sickle of the waxing moon and the evening star. The man on the right is wearing a green cape, and beret and has a walking stick in his right hand. The man on the left is standing on the slightly higher ground. He is leaning on his companion’s shoulder. He is slimmer, looks younger, and is wearing a green coat, and cap with its strap tied under his chin. The figures are dressed in formal garments, which also serve to signify their higher class. The moon’s night side is lit by earthshine.

The scene is framed by an uprooted oak tree on their right, whose branches reach out to those of a spruce tree on their left. A large boulder prevents the oak from falling to the side of the mountain. Below and to the right, the tops of pine trees suggest a forest below. The jagged branches and stark contrasts seem to create a threatening environment, but the glow of the moonlit sky lifts the mood of the painting. The works emphasize spirituality in nature and the presence of the sublime, which are dominant themes of Friedrich.

Friedrich painted at least three versions of this scene, with one variation featuring a man and a woman. The 1819–20 version in the Galerie Neue Meister is thought to be the original, the 1824 variant with a woman is in the Alte Nationalgalerie, and the 1830 version is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Playwright Samuel Beckett, standing before “Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon,” said, “This was the source of Waiting for Godot, you know.”

Caspar David Friedrich - Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon

Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon

Caspar David Friedrich

Caspar David Friedrich (1774 – 1840) was a 19th-century German Romantic landscape painter, generally considered the most important German artist of his generation. He is best known for his allegorical landscapes. They typically feature contemplative figures silhouetted against night skies, morning mists, barren trees or Gothic ruins. His primary interest as an artist was the contemplation of nature, and his often symbolic and anti-classical work seeks to convey a subjective, emotional response to the natural world. Friedrich’s paintings characteristically set a human presence in diminished perspective amid expansive landscapes, reducing the figures to a scale.

The rise of Nazism in the early 1930s saw a resurgence in Friedrich’s popularity. This was followed by a sharp decline when his paintings were associated with the Nazi movement. They were interpreted as having a nationalistic aspect, fortunately in the late 1970s that Friedrich regained his reputation as an icon of the German Romantic movement.

Reflections

  • Friedrich painted the two figures to be seen from behind, so that the viewer may participate in their communion with nature.
  • The figures have been identified as Friedrich, at right, and a friend and student.
  • Is Caspar David Friedrich the master of silhouetted figures against the night sky?
  • Fascination with the moon ran high among the Romantics, who regarded it as an object of contemplation.
  • The source of inspiration for “Waiting for Godot”?

Two Men Contemplating the Moon

  • Title:                    Two Men Contemplating the Moon
  • German:              Zwei Männer in Betrachtung des Mondes
  • Artist:                  Caspar David Friedricht
  • Medium:             Oil on canvas
  • Date:                   1825–30
  • Dimensions:        Height: 34.9 cm (13.7 ″); Width: 43.8 cm (17.2 ″)
  • Museum:            Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

Caspar David Friedrich

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“All beginnings are hard.”
– German Proverb

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Photo Credit: Caspar David Friedrich [Public domain]

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