An Analysis of the Wanderer above the Sea of Fog

Caspar David Friedrich ‘s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog ca. 1817

Artwork description & Analysis: Wanderer above a Sea of Fog (sometimes also referred to as “Sea of Mist”) depicts a lone man, formally dressed and holding a walking cane, standing on an outcropping of rocks looking out at an inhospitable expanse. He stands perfectly still, only his hair ruffled by an unseen wind, against a tumultuous field that churns at his feet. In the background is a sky filled with white puffy clouds and the outline of mountaintops barely visible through the mist. As the man contemplates the vastness before him, the sublimity of nature is demonstrated not in a calm, serene view, but in the sheer power of what natural forces can accomplish. 

Friedrich is known to have made political statements in his painting, often coded in subtle ways. The costume the figure wears was worn by students and others during Germany’s Wars of Liberation; by the time of this painting, the clothing was forbidden by Germany’s new ruling government. By deliberately depicting the figure in this outfit, he made a visual, albeit understated, stand against the current government. The political nature of this work did not stop there however; his work (especially this painting) were adopted and abused by the Nazi regime as symbols of intense German nationalism. Because Friedrich replaced more literal illustration with merely suggestive messaging, his paintings were easily reinterpreted to fit new political intentions. It would take more than three decades, into the 1980s, for his work to be viewed and appreciated once again without the taint of Nazism.

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