10/3/08

Caspar David Friedrich, The Oaktree in the Snow


Nationalgalerie, Berlin

Date: 1829
Technique: Oil on canvas, 71 x 48 cm

Friedrich was preoccupied by the passage of time. The ages of man are mirrored by the seasonal cycle, and his vivid representations of winter snow and leafless trees contain the promise of spring growth, as in 'The Oak Tree in the Snow', which is both an image of striking naturalism and a complex allegory, painted late in Friedrich's life in a mood of retrospection. The German oak, a symbol of strength, is cruelly chopped and denuded, like Germany itself for much of the painter's life; its dead branches speak of a lost past. Yet at its roots spring new leaves, and the blue sky, reflected in the icy water, brings hope of renewal. This picture needs no figures, for the oak is really a collective figure of the German people.

Oak trees run like a leitmotif throughout Friedrich's oeuvre, often in conjunction with a dolmen. They are a reminder of the artist's personal roots and are at the same time charged with nationalist sentiment.

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