CASPAR DAVID FRIEDRICH
1774 Greifswald – Dresden 1840
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Morgennebel (Morning Fog) – Bohemian Landscape May 16, 1828
watercolor with pen and grey ink over pencil on wove paper; 128 x 205 mm (5 1/16 x 8 1/8 inches)
dated in pen and grey ink at lower left den 16t Maij 1828 and titled at lower right Morgennebel
private collection, Düsseldorf (when first seen by C.G. Boerner in 1981); by descent to
private collection, Chemnitz
cf. Christina Grummt, Caspar David Friedrich. Die Zeichnungen. Das gesamte Werk, Munich 2011, cf. nos. 899–912, 928–932
This newly discovered watercolor belongs to a group of sixteen works (fifteen watercolors and one pen drawing) that Friedrich created during a short trip to Northern Bohemia in May 1828. The artist was accompanied by August Philipp Clara, an artist from Dorpat (now Tartu, Livonia) who had become court engraver to Czar Nicholas I in Saint Peterbourg in 1825. Friedrich and Clara left Dresden for Teplitz around May 7. Teplitz (Teplice) is located about 50 km south of Dresden close to the border of Saxony and situated between the southern slopes of the Erzgebirge (Krušné Hory) to the northwest and the Central Bohemian Uplands to the southeast in what is now the Czech Republic. The two travelers were recorded in the town’s register on May 9 as having stayed in the Töpferschenke “for a few days.” The purpose of their trip was given as a Kunstreise, zufus (probably best translated as “art hike, on foot”). Using Teplitz as their base, they ventured into the surrounding countryside.
Much of the trip can be reconstructed by the dates that appear on seven of the sixteen works. These drawings are precisely dated May 9 (G.929), 10 (G.910), 11 (G.911), 12 (G.931), and 14 (G.932); this watercolor and another now in Copenhagen (G.912) are dated May 16 and mark the end of Friedrich’s stay in the Teplitz area.
The watercolor’s composition displays a remarkable degree of abstraction. The foreground is dominated by four horizontal bands of color that gradually recede toward the back. The middle ground is accentuated by a Bildstock (roadside cross), a recurring motif in landscapes by German Romantic artists. Beyond this marker, the landscape opens up to a range of hills in the far distance. Friedrich often dated his drawings very precisely, but the added annotation, Morgennebel (morning fog or mist), is highly unusual. Within the context of the creation of the sheet—first as a faithful rendering of a topographical view—Morgennebel can be read as a technical annotation, not unlike some of the color notes that Friedrich would add to many of his pencil drawings. The annotation is meant as a reminder of the time of day as well as the weather phenomenon at the moment of the drawing’s execution.
However, despite its modest size, this remarkable watercolor can be seen as a paradigmatic example of Friedrich’s landscape art. As Helmut Börsch-Supan points out, the annotation and the date—not scribbled in pencil but written neatly in pen and ink—are integral elements of the composition, accentuating the foreground the same way the Bildstock marks the center of the middle ground. Perceived this way, the word Morgennebel becomes a title in a proper sense, transcending technical annotation as the watercolor transcends its function as topographical record. The title informs the tender Romantic sensibility of the work and even lends itself to iconological interpretation. In 1828 Friedrich found himself in a period of crisis that followed his severe (but never specified) illness during 1825–26. His works from these years are pervaded by darkness. One may therefore assume that the Kunstreise, zufus in the spring of 1828 was also undertaken with a therapeutic intent. Our watercolor, one of the last two from this trip that were dated, could hence be interpreted as the artist’s expression of hope that the rising morning sun will be able to dissolve the night’s lingering mist and bring on a new and better day. Yet Friedrich’s inclusion of the Bildstock adds a further, religious dimension to the image. The cross is an undeniable symbol for Christ, and belief in Him holds the promise that—like the sun bringing light to the dark—man’s suffering on earth will be overcome in the hereafter.
Professor Dr. Helmut Börsch-Supan has kindly confirmed Friedrich’s authorship in a letter from June 6, 2018.