Thursday, April 1, 2010

Goethe on the Baltic

Now, for a momentary respite from an analysis of the Goethe-Schiller friendship. And, of course, Goethe was never on the Baltic, as far as I am aware, though he did have some theories about glaciers and the geology of Scandinavia.

Today I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, namely, Mare Radio, produced by Radio Bremen. Mare Radio is always about the world's waters, but this month it is focusing on the Baltic, with reports on its history, geology, and also the painters who loved it. In art there were painters who loved the Mediterranean, and indeed most of Europe seems to have headed south or to the South Pacific. Others, however, loved the more mysterious Baltic. In Goethe's lifetime the most famous was Caspar David Friedrich, who, according to the podcast, sought in nature not "die blaue Blume sondern reale Spiegelbilder der Seele" (the blue flower but real images of the soul).

The evening sea coast by Greifswald became an allegory of life and death. Thus, the "life stages" painting, in which Friedrich himself figured. Friedrich's seas are seldom blue, instead mostly green, even black and brown.

The "Brücke" painters are also mentioned in the podcast, but the artist who had a special love for the Baltic was Lyonel Feininger (1876-1956), American born but of German ancestry, who went to Berlin as a teenager already to study painting. According to the podcast (though I have not seen this in online biographies) Feininger also studied music in Hamburg (his father was a violinist, his mother a singer), where he probably saw Friedrich's paintings in the museum there. During this time he spent lots of time on the Baltic, on Rügen, later in Usedom. After his studies, he became a commercial artist, of a satirical stripe, as in the image here of "The Learned Apothecary." He even created a comic strip, and his first pictures of the Baltic were generally caricatures of people on the beach.

But the Baltic seascape grew on him. He traveled to Travermünde with Walter Gropius, where he began executing sketches of the Baltic region (many now in the Museum of Modern Art) that served as studies for later paintings.

One recognizes in these paintings less an "objective" than a "subjective" portrayal of nature. The latter, of course, was the focus of Goethe's and Schiller's animus and a principal reason for their dislike of German Romanticism. Caspar David Friedrich, in turn, was not attracted by Goethe's praise for the English cloud-watcher Luke Howard's cataloguing of natural phenomena. He persisted instead in his own very different cloud studies.

Picture credits: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum der Bildenden Künste Leipzig (Friedrich); Museum of Modern Art

1 comment:

scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.