Dated by Charlotte Margarethe de Prybram-Gladona to 1820 and by Helmut Börsch-Supan to the 1830s, the present work belongs to the seven hitherto unrecorded oils discovered by lawyer and art historian Carl von Lorck (1892-1975) between 1941 and 1943 during his cultural survey of East Prussian noble houses. Both in date of execution and compositionally, particularly in its symbolic pictorial vocabulary, it comes close to Friedrich's Landscape with Mountain Lake, Morning (lot 8).
In July 1810 Friedrich took a walking tour with Georg Friedrich Kersting in the Riesengebirge (Giant Mountains). Located south-east of Dresden, the range runs between Silesia and Bohemia, along the border of what are today the Czech Republic and Poland. The experience provided a rich source of inspiration, and the basis for many subsequent works from his career.
The rocky tumbling foreground symbolises the transience of earthly life (the solitary hut a reminder of the smallness of humankind in the face of nature, the dead tree a memento mori), the upright firs the faithful who will inherit eternal life, denoted by the sun-illuminated uplands in the beyond. The brightening sky as a harbinger of divine sanctuary in the face of adversity is a device found throughout Friedrich's oeuvre, famously in the Eismeer (The Sea of Ice). Friedrich's aesthetic legacy is a profound one, and can be felt in the landscapes of succeeding generations of artists, from Ferdinand Hodler to Gerhard Richter.
Of equivalent dimensions, the present work and Mountain Peak with Drifting Clouds also share a common provenance (fig. 1). For over a century both were lost in obscurity in the von Hahn family seat of Schloss Basedow, until their discovery in 1941 by Carl von Lorck.
Mountain Peak with Drifting Clouds remained in the von Hahn family until it was sold in these rooms on 25 November 1981, subsequently becoming the first painting by Friedrich to enter a museum collection outside of Europe. However the present work was acquired by Fritz Nathan, and it remained in his collection until his death. Nathan's association with Friedrich is legendary: in 1930 he famously brokered the sale of Friedrich's Kreidefelsen auf Rügen (The Chalf Cliffs at Rügen) from the collection of Julius Freund in Berlin to the Swiss collector and art patron Oskar Reinhart from Winterthur.
This work has been requested on loan for the 2020–21 exhibition Caspar David Friedrich and the Düsseldorfer Malerschule at the Kunstpalast Düsseldorf and the Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig.
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