When we think of the wanderer as a painterly motif, the famous painting Wanderer above the Sea of Fogby Caspar David Friedrich of circa 1817 comes to mind. This exceptional loan from the Hamburger Kunsthalle forms the starting point for a special exhibition held at the Alte Nationalgalerie, which follows this surprisingly central theme in art throughout the nineteenth century and all the way to Hodler and Gauguin.
With Rousseau’s call to get “back to nature!” and Goethe’s Sturm und Drang poetry, wandering around 1800 became the expression of a modern awareness of life. As part of a reaction against the rapid social changes that began in the French Revolution, a new form of decelerated self- and world knowledge developed, whose presence can still be felt today.
Since the Romantic period, artists have discovered nature for themselves, exploring it on foot and looking at it from new angles. Wandering, in art, came to stand for life’s journey, for symbolic pilgrimage. For the traveller, the self-determined journey on foot brought with it a new, intensified encounter with nature and a form of world-appropriation that was both sensual and physical.
The works shown in the exhibition, including masterworks by Caspar David Friedrich, Carl Blechen, Karl Friedrich Schinkel and Johan Christian Dahl, by Gustave Courbet, Ferdinand Hodler and Paul Gauguin, show just how powerful and fruitful the motif of the wanderer was in art throughout the nineteenth century, not only in Germany but in many places, from France to Norway and from Russia to the USA.
The exhibition will be arranged in themed sections: The Discovery of Nature; Life’s Journey; The Artist’s Wanderings; The Promenaders; Landscapes of Wandering on Both Sides of the Alps. Significant loaned works from important international museum collections will complement selected works from the collection of the Nationalgalerie, resulting in a large show of approximately 100 exhibits.
The exhibition is made possible by the Freunde der Nationalgalerie and supported by Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft.
(Photo: Caspar David Friedrich (1774 – 1840), Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (detail), around 1817 © SHK/Hamburger Kunsthalle/bpk / Photo: Elke Walford)