Wanderer above the Sea of Fog

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Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818
By ISABEL THOMAS

“Once again / Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs, / Which on a wild secluded scene impress / Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect / The landscape with the quiet of the sky”
           “Lines,” William Wordsworth.

Like the narrator of “Lines,” the man in Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog feels connected to nature and reveres its serenity. Alone atop a cliff, the man finds a personal paradise and an escape from the city.

Friedrich’s clouds and fog unite elements of the landscape and envelop mighty mountains in softness. All of nature becomes one before the wanderer’s eyes. Part of the setting but outside of the cycle, he simply observes, in awe of the scene unfolding before him. Above the world, the man can look down on the folly of a civilization from which he temporarily removes himself. Clouds that reveal only the tops of peaks cover trivial concerns below.

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog demonstrates Friedrich’s incredible skill and elicits an emotional response. The subtle hues in the sunset have an optimistic quality, and the clouds soften stress. The painting draws out a deep breath and reminds observers to slow down and appreciate the world outside of papers and commitments. Even if one’s cliff exists only within the mind, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog prompts a retreat to regain personal equilibrium.

As diverse as they may be, viewers of Wanderer above the Sea of Fog all assume the man’s position over the mist. By leaving the wanderer faceless and receptive to adaptation, Friedrich intended this response. The clouds and cliffs carry people to tranquility and replace pressure with the pure white landscape.

Wordsworth suggests that one can return to past experiences in memory. He writes, “The picture of the mind revives again: / While here I stand, not only with the sense / Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts / That in this moment there is life and food / For future years.” With the ethereal qualities of memory, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog potentially features a man standing on a cliff, not physically, but within his thoughts.

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