Caspar David Friedrich (German, 1774-1840)
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Caspar David Friedrich (German, 1774-1840)

Figures contemplating the moon

Caspar David Friedrich (German, 1774-1840)
Figures contemplating the moon
signed 'Friedrich fct' (on the original mounting card); stamped with owner's stamp, Freiherr C. Rolas du Rosey (Lugt. no. 2237)
watercolour and pen and ink on paper
3½ x 5 in. (8.9 x 12.7 cm.)
Executed in 1794-98
Baron Carl Rolas du Rosey.
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Period frame on loan from Paul Mitchell Ltd and available for purchase please inquire with the department.

Lot Essay

Professor Börsch-Supan has authenticated this work in a letter dated 9 March 1977. He goes on to note that there is a similar watercolour, although less complete, in the Kupferstichkabinett in Copenhagen dated 1795 (H. Börsch-Supan, Caspar David Friedrich; Gemälde, Druckgraphik und bildmässige Zeichnungen, Munich, 1973, no. 4). He suggests that the present watercolour is a little later in date but probably executed before 1798 whilst Friedrich was still attending the Copenhagen Academy (1794-1798). Friedrich depicted scenes from the area around Copenhagen and his watercolours from this period already show signs of an attempt to convey allegories through motif. The present watercolour is a rare and important document of Friedrich's early romantic and symbolic work and illustrates elements which were to characterise his painting throughout his career.

Rich in symbolism this compositionaly complete watercolour depicts a moonlit scene with three figures on the banks of a stream in the grounds of a church. Börsch-Supan suggests that the tall trees side by side were probably drawn from life and notes that the broken branches on the spruce tree were to be a feature of many such motifs. The church, with its stepped roof was typical of Danish churches of the period, although the windows and roof were drawn from imagination. There is another example of a similar church in a watercolour in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Weimar, executed in 1810 (Börsch-Supan, op. cit., no. 186).

Close to the water's edge a man consoles a lady by gesturing to the full moon as it appears from behind the clouds. The moon is beautifully reflected in the water and bathes the tombstones, the large cross and the church in its light. The prominence of the cross was of course another motif that Friedrich was to employ to great effect in his spiritual compositions. There is another cross used in this manner in a drawing in the Kunsthalle, Mannheim (Börsch-Supan, op. cit., no. 20).

It is the abundance of these romantic motifs which make this drawing so fascinating. The early date of its execution and the richness of its romantic vocabuary make it a rare insight into German romantic landscape painting in the first half of the 19th century and at the beginning of Friedrich's career.

Baron Carl Rolas du Rosey (d. 1862), whose stamp appears on the lower left hand corner, was the owner of an important collection of objets d'art, paintings, miniatures, and drawings, which he catalogued himself. This catalogue served as the basis for sales after his death. The first sale was held in Dresden on 8th April 1863 and the last in Leipzig on 5th September 1864.


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