This spare painting is one of my favorite oils, by the great German painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840).
“The Monk By the Sea is one of the best-known German art works of all time and the painting of the German Romanticism. When it was being restored in 2015, infrared reflectography revealed a drawing underneath that shows how Friedrich originally planned the picture: two ships to the left and right of the monk, stakes with fishermen’s nets on the shore… Friedrich worked hard at this composition for two years before rejecting this classical arrangement and opting instead for a radical emptiness and the solitude of the monk.”*
In Friedrich’s own words:
“In the front a barren, sandy shore, then the agitated sea. On the shore stands a monk deep in thought. Seagulls fly about him fearfully calling, as if seeking to warn him.”
The painter goes on to comment:
“Your footprints are deep in the barren, sandy shore; but a silent wind blows over them and your trail vanishes.”
“Foolish human. Even should you presume to attempt from morning until falling midnight to fathom the undiscovered Beyond, you would not solve the riddle of the dark future.”
One of Caspar David Friedrich’s most controversial paintings, here is a fascinating video which places it in its context. Well worth a watch: