Caspar David Friedrich


While Friedrich’s paintings often feature a moon partially veiled behind clouds, in this work he made the full moon the focal point of the drawing. To emphasize the bright moonlight, Friedrich cut a circle out of the watercolor and then pasted unpainted paper over the hole. With the drawing lit from behind by candlelight, the moon would seem to glow, lighting the pond and the white birch tree in contrast to the dark ground.

Caspar David Friedrich
German; 1774–1840
Moonlit Landscape, before 1808
Watercolor and opaque watercolor; the moon, cut-and-pasted insert


This nocturnal scene by Caspar David Friedrich is a quintessential romantic landscape drawing. The effect of moonlight was embraced by romantic artists who reveled in the drama and atmosphere of mystery found in evening scenes. Here the light of the moon is reflected in the water and produces golden glints on the tree trunk, fence, and statue of the Virgin Mary at center. Friedrich believed that every truthful work of art must express a definite feeling, must move the spectator either to joy or to sadness, to melancholy or to lightheartedness. Thus, the aim of drawings such as this sheet was to evoke an emotional response rather than convey an explicit narrative. For the deeply religious Friedrich, being stirred while contemplating nature was to be moved by the wonders of divine creation.

To heighten the effect of the moonlight, Friedrich cut a hole in the paper and pasted the circular form of the moon over it so that the thin circle of paper would glow softly with flickering illumination when a candle was placed behind it. He also recommended that the sheet be shown while music was being played. Such an experience would engage the sense of hearing as well as sight and reflects Friedrich's ambition to arouse the viewer's emotions.