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Caspar David Friedrich's The Wanderer above the Mists 1817-18 is a stark emblem of the defiant solitude of the typical German Romantic male. Friedrich, a key exponent of metaphysical and symbolic landscapes settled in Dresden in the late eighteenth century just as the 'Sturm und Drang' movement was beginning in literature, later giving life to Romanticism in painting. Friedrich's Germany, then a disparate collection of state that would be united into what we known at modern Germany 1871, became the ideal reflection of the spirit so closely associated with the art and literature of his times. The artist's deft reproductions of the dramatic and idiosyncratic features of the northern German landscape seem to segue seamlessly into folklore, imbuing them with a profound mysticism. Looking to the pre-Christian world, Friedrich's Romanticism was a proudly secular one, as his nation attempted to come to terms with the destruction wrought by the catastrophic Thirty Years War that laid waste to countless German villages and changed the face of Northern European rural life for ever.
The Wanderer above the Mists masterfully shifts the unpopular genre of landscape painting into an articulate reproduction of the complex inner world of the individual. Featuring a reproduction of his own likeness gazing out on the ragged rocks and surrounded by creeping mist, the viewer is situated only a few steps behind the artist himself, and shares his viewpoint. Encouraging the idea that a painting is the embodiment of the artist's interpretation of the world, The Wanderer above the Mists is a visual manifestation of the key tenets of Romanticism. A blissful and contemplative solitude high on the plateau of a mountaintop situates the ideal zone of reflection utterly removed from urban life and the company of others. This defiant reproduction of an attitude of self-expression is intrinsically linked to a new-found appreciation for spiritual reflection and isolation, encouraging the viewer to adopt the stance of the artist himself and shun the material world.