FRIEDRICH, Caspar David
(b. 1774, Greifswald, d. 1840, Dresden)

The Sea of Ice

1824
Oil on canvas, 96,7 x 126,9 cm
Kunsthalle, Hamburg

This painting may be understood as a sort of programmatic statement and resume of Friedrich's aims and intentions. A source of inspiration for the painting was the polar expedition mounted by William Edward Parry from 1819 to 1820 in search of the North-west Passage. The painting's icy palette corresponds to the Arctic setting. It is undoubtedly one of the artist's masterpieces, yet the radical nature of its composition and subject was greeted in its own day with incomprehension and rejection. The picture remained unsold right up to Friedrich's death in 1840.

In the painting, now often called The Wreck of the Hope, the painter imbued the subject with unsurpassable dramatic intensity. The particular feature of this work is that the drama has already happened. The huge towering pinnacles are the slowly moving icebergs that have long become fixed here. The bold attempt by man to burst the bounds of his allotted sphere ends in death.

When the artist was 13, an accident occurred, that, perhaps subconsciously, formed part of the shadow that seemed to darken his temperament throughout his life. While ice skating he was saved from drowning by his younger brother Christoph, but Christoph himself drowned in the icy water before his eyes. It can be hardly denied that Friedrich's various "sea of ice" paintings must be seen in relation to this traumatic experience.