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Caspar David Friedrich: Moonwatchers

September 11–November 11, 2001

Two Men Contemplating the Moon: Dresden Version

The symmetry underlying Friedrich's landscapes is usually severe, and the scenes are frequently without figures. However the Dresden version of Two Men Contemplating the Moon is exceptional. One of the artist's most often illustrated and cited pictures, and the best known of the three celebrated paintings, this nocturnal version is the most dramatic. The composition is asymmetrical, the landscape relatively crowded. Symbolic elements—a dead oak tree and an evergreen, a rock, and two large figures—evoke stage decor. Interpretations of this small painting are wildly divergent, ranging from exclusively Christian, to pagan, mystical, and political. The manner in which the two men are dressed can be read (and has been documented) as a reference to the German political landscape of the time. Friedrich gave this painting to his friend and neighbor Dahl shortly after it was completed, and it is not known to what degree this version informed the other two.