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

The Abbey in the Oakwood

Oil on canvas, 110 x 171 cm
Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin

The Cross in the Mountains (The Tetschen Altar) brought Friedrich to the attention of a wider public. Probably at no other point in his life did Friedrich enjoy more profound appreciation and greater admiration than in the years around 1810. Two landscapes in particular were responsible for thrusting Friedrich into the limelight. In 1810 they were exhibited as pendants at the Academy exhibition in Berlin, where they were purchased by the Prussian king Frederick William III. These two paintings were The Monk by the Sea and the Abbey in the Oakwood.

The Abbey in the Oakwood is an expression of grief at the loss of a great past. The artist has chosen to depict an architectural ruin; it may testify to the sublimity of the past, but it is a monument in a graveyard.

The Napoleonic invasion of Germany and the consequent War of Liberation had added a patriotic dimension to Friedrich's subjects of north German ecclesiastical buildings in ruins or, in imagination, raised again. While the essential message of the Abbey in the Oak-wood of 1810 is the passing of the earthly life, its fog-bound ruin and blasted, leafless trees inevitably evoked the contemporary state of Germany.

The painting was exhibited with its companion picture, the Monk by the Sea. This suggests the hope of resurrection in its bright sky, in contrast to the dark clouds that loom above the figure on his Baltic shore.