Rabenbaum (The Tree of Crows), ca. 1822
oil on canvas
59 x 73 cm.
Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
The Tree of Crows is pessimistic in mood, it is a painting founded upon strong colour contrasts. The hillock in the centre of the composition probably represents one of the dolmens on Rügen; the island's bluffs and long, narrow reef running far out into the sea are visible in the left-hand background. The bare oak tree with its bizarrely twisted branches goes back to studies made considerably earlier in Friedrich's career. In contrast to the ravaged trees around it, it obstinately stands up to every storm. A striking note within the painting is sounded by the red of the stumps and tree debris, which together with the crows or ravens announce disaster and death.
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Caspar David Friedrich (September 5, 1774 – May 7, 1840) was a 19th-century German Romantic landscape painter, generally considered the most important German artist of his generation. He is best known for his mid-period allegorical landscapes which typically feature contemplative figures silhouetted against night skies, morning mists, barren trees or Gothic ruins. His primary interest as an artist was the contemplation of nature, and his often symbolic and anti-classical work seeks to convey a subjective, emotional response to the natural world. Friedrich's paintings characteristically set a human presence in diminished perspective amid expansive landscapes, reducing the figures to a scale that, according to the art historian Christopher John Murray, directs "the viewer's gaze towards their metaphysical dimension".