FROM GOYA TO PICASSO: WORKS FROM THE PRIVATE COLLECTION OF JAN KRUGIER
The young Friedrich had first visited Rügen in 1801, and a number of small ink sketches drawn in situ on the island during this trip were later worked up by him into a series of larger, more complex ink drawings and watercolours with which he started to earn his reputation as the foremost German Romantic landscape painter.
The present work relates to six other views of Vitt beach (see Grummt, nos. 374-376, 420, 527 and 593). Executed between 1801 and 1807 the works differ markedly in execution, and the present work is the most detailed and elaborately drawn of the group.
This series of depictions of Vitt beach with Kap Arkona in the background were based on a drawing of 22 June 1801 (fig. 1, now in the collection of the Kupferstichkabinett Dresden). Of these works two are supposed lost, one is in a private collection (fig. 2, sold Sotheby's London, 20 November 2013) and the others are in the collections of the Hamburger Kunsthalle, the Kunsthalle Bremen, and the Albertina, Vienna.
Friedrich's Romantic landscapes are mostly symbolic, exploring the themes of death, transience and eternity. In the present composition the beached boat can be read as an allegory of the passing of time, a life's journey completed. Friedrich returned to the subject much later in a sepia of 1837 (now in the Hermitage, St Petersburg), reinforcing its symbolic role in his aesthetic. On the other hand, the fishing nets hung out to dry, while evocative of human labour, are also imbued with Christian connotations.
Friedrich had come to Neubrandenburg in early 1801 following a personal crisis which had culminated in a suicide attempt. It is likely that he found solace and respite at this difficult time in the beauty of creation, which rendered Rügen's sublime rugged coastline particularly attractive to him. Men's solitude in the face of the immensity of nature was to become the most distinctive feature of his subsequent œuvre.
Friedrich's depictions of Vitt beach and Kap Arkona of 1801-07 ultimately informed his famed composition Chalk Cliffs at Rügen, a version of which in watercolour is in the Leipzig Museum (fig. 3).
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