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Ben Johnson: An Artist’s Perspective

Take a tour of the collection with artist Ben Johnson – discover how painters throughout history have constructed architecture and space.

Caspar David Friedrich, 'Winter Landscape', probably 1811

Ben Johnson: An Artist's Perspective
Caspar David Friedrich, 'Winter Landscape' – 2 mins 10 secs


Ben Johnson: Then I want to come to another painting, which is portraying a building. But the building is a very small part of the painting. This is a painting by [Caspar David] Friedrich. And Friedrich fascinates me because he is a man that quite clearly is portraying a world that is somewhere between the spiritual, the mythological and the material. His paintings so often deal with myths. And without knowing the stories behind the paintings, we are missing half of the message that should be received.

But in this painting... what have we got? We’ve got a church coming out of the mist. We have religion at the centre of the painting. We have a crucifixion in the middle of nature. It’s surrounded by trees. Why is this lonely crucifixion in a landscape? Is it just another roadside memory? Has there been a death here? Is this a place of pilgrimage? Why are we looking at it through this mist of a snow-covered landscape? A misty winter day with sun just coming through behind the church. There’s a hint of warmth in the coldness of the landscape.

I think we’re dealing with the world of magic and allegorical storytelling. We’re dealing with the transcendence of the material world into the dream-like world of the hidden depths of the human psyche. I think here we have a clue about the maker of this painting and we have a clue perhaps as to one of the aspects of our nature, because we all are multi-faceted and have different aspects to our nature. And as we walk around a museum like the National Gallery, we have different paintings that we can approach on different days to find different aspects of ourselves.

Ben Johnson looks at a world of magic and allegory in Caspar David Friedrich's painting. How does this painting affect the way we look round galleries?

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