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The Sea of Ice – Caspar David Friedrich…

I came across this truly amazing painting only recently…

1824, Caspar David Friedrich's Das Eismeer (The Sea of Ice).

At first glance, with its sharp, bright colours, realistic treatment of light, jagged composition lines and almost alien subject matter, you would be forgiven for thinking (like I did) that this was a contemporary image, more than likely produced with a little help from Photoshop…

You would be wrong though. Incredibly this painting by the German Romantic landscape artist Caspar David Friedrich, dates from as long ago as 1824, making it very nearly 200 years old…

Entitled The Sea of Ice (or sometimes The Wreck of Hope) it depicts a scene that would have been shockingly unfamiliar to the large majority of people who saw it in 19th Century Europe. A mass of broken ice sheets, rocks and snow thrust violently upwards, creating a scene so dramatic, that its only after a closer look that you realise there is the bow of a wrecked ship “The Griper” to the right of the main peak…

Commissioned to celebrate the voyage of William Parry’s expedition to find the Northwest Passage in the winter of 1820/ 21, the painting depicts the moment when The Griper is abandoned to the unrelenting and inhumane pressures of the northern ice floes..

Except that this didn’t happen.. Both The Griper and a second ship, The Hecia made it further than any previous expedition and The Griper, after many more years service, was finally scrapped in Portsmouth in 1865…

So as is usually the case with great art, it’s all down to imagination and skill. And one can only marvel at Friedrich’s ability to produce such a powerful, convincing and impressively contemporary image simply from reading Parry’s account of the expedition and studying the frozen river Elbe in winter near his home, without ever having been anywhere near the North Pole…

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