John Constable and Caspar David Friedrich are two very well known European painters of the first half of the 19th century. Both of them are famous for their romantic approach to the social, cultural, political, and artistic issues that characterized the society of their period. The styles of these two painters are very different, so are their histories and views on the world around them.
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The social circumstances that shaped these people and their artistic manners that influenced their works were partly similar. The Motherlands of both painters, England and Germany, were covered with a wave of industrialization and practical materialism that changed the typical lifestyle of European people, their ways of thinking, and their ideas of the world around them.
John Constable’s “The Hay Wain,” created in 1821, depicts a pastoral scene from a typical English countryside of that time. The painter’s focus was the demonstration of harmony and quietness of the scene. Constable made it look very still and peaceful even though the painting portrays people in the middle of their work processes. The art piece was designed to point out the simple beauty of the English countryside.
Another work by this painter is called “Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Garden,” and it depicts the Cathedral surrounded by nature. This is a motif that can be seen in a lot of works of the 19th-century painters. Nature is the symbol of the beauty created by God, and the Cathedral represents the beauty created by humans in order to worship God and his creations. Both of these works of John Constable are filled with a lot of daylight, serenity, and peace. The painter tried to capture the images of rural life that were gradually being changed or erased by the developing technologies and the industrialization of life.
Caspar David Friedrich’s “Monk by the Sea” that saw the world in 1810 is an amazing masterpiece that portrays a monk standing at the seashore. The unstill dark water and a cloudy sky are about to burst into a massive storm. The monk’s figure is very small in the painting. This was Friedrich’s way to emphasize the power of nature. The fact that the only human in the painting is a monk makes the viewer think about spirituality and religion, another powerful force that makes humans weak and tiny.
Friedrich shows the weakness and fragility of mankind that was successfully forgotten about in the era of industrialization. One more very famous painting by Caspar David Friedrich is “Abbey among Oak Trees.” This art piece is also tightly connected with religion and spirituality. The scene in the painting shows a coffin being carried towards the ruins of an abbey that are surrounded by bare oak trees in a winter evening; we can also see the moon in the sky above the dark and cold landscape.
This painting is full of philosophical sense and has several layers of time. It shows the things that go away quickly, such as human life or monuments made by people; the things that stay longer, such as oak trees or nature in general, and the things that stay the longest, such as the universe, cosmos and its objects. This idea was also enforced by the process of industrialization and political instability in Germany. The painter suggested looking at life globally and seeing deeper meanings of everything.
These artworks reveal the way the painters felt about technological progress and industrialization in their countries and society. Both Constable and Friedrich focus their attention on non-material beauty, natural landscapes, spiritual issues, and the sense of being.
Industrialization happened not only in the cities; it was going on in people’s minds, changing the way of perception of the world, replacing romantic and philosophical ways of thinking with materialistic consumerism and practicality, where beauty was no longer valuable because it had no material component, no clear purpose, no use. Friedrich’s view of nature is different from the ideas of Constable.
The latter sees nature as the fulfillment of human progress, the power that feeds and provides people with more opportunities to develop, while Friedrich often opposes nature to people, makes them uneven rivals, because the power of nature is eternal.
The ability to see and appreciate this “old-fashioned” kind of beauty, value things that had no practical use was the factor that made these painters romantics. Constable’s sceneries are preserved pieces of his own memories and views he feels nostalgic about because they disappear quickly under the influence of new technologies and new life. Friedrich’s works are silent reminders that nothing made by humans will stay and that eventually, the power of nature will take over everything and everyone.
Both of the painters were influenced by the instability of the time they lived in, the major social, economic, and political changes that started a wave of anxiety in people’s minds. The society of the first half of the 19th century was adjusting to the increasing speed of life and massive metamorphoses that were about to happen.