"[Caspar David] Friedrich [was] the sole landscape painter who...had the power to move every part of my soul, the one who created a new genre: the tragedy of landscape," wrote sculptor Pierre-Jean David d'Angers. Friedrich aimed to produce a Christian art based in nature, divested of standard biblical imagery.
After training in Copenhagen from 1794 to 1798, Friedrich settled in Dresden and later taught at the Dresden Academy. His first works were sepia landscapes. In 1807 he began working in oils and immediately caused a sensation: his Cross in the Mountains, installed in a private chapel, used landscape to evoke the spirit of the Crucifixion. Shocked by his use of secular genre for a religious purpose, critics accused Friedrich of sacrilege.
Friedrich's oeuvre encompasses scenes of ruined Gothic churches, cemeteries, desolate landscapes, and silent figures in vast spaces, all deeply spiritual and often melancholy. He was the first artist to create awe before nature and to infuse landscape and light with emotional and symbolic content. By 1835 Friedrich was nearly paralyzed and could make only sepia landscapes. He died in Dresden sad, lonely, and poor. His immediate influence was confined to a few students, but his work was rediscovered at century's end.