Painting Analysis : Wanderer above the Sea of fog by Casper David Friedrich and Inwangjesakdo by Jeong Seon


For the longest time, nature drawings have been one of the popular as an observational form that appeals to Eastern and Western artists. From Nature drawings, both sides of artists depicted not only the realistic and magnificent view but also the expression of their minds and emotions. However, there was a significant difference between Eastern and Western artist. They approached nature with a different point of view. Take for example Wanderer above the Sea of Fog from Casper David Friedrich. Its depiction of plentiful air and fog gives depth to this art piece and a wanderer is positioned at the center. This kind of composition leads our eyes to focus more to a wanderer than nature.Western art, most humans are in the middle of nature. Additionally, their arts express the perception of subjective emotion as well. In contrast, Inwangjesakdo from Jeong Seon depicts only nature and it seems like nature embraces human. Moreover, it describes the magnificent detail with unique brush skills. Western nature drawings show human beings can go beyond nature and Eastern drawings show nature as a great existence that can’t be overcome.

Description of Wanderer above the Sea of Fog painting by Casper David Friedrich

The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog is a German Romantic art oil painting that was completed in 1818.  The medium of the painting is oil on canvas, with its dimension measuring 98.4 cm by 74.8 cm. The painting features a foreground where a young man is seen standing on a rocky crag. His back faces the viewer and is dressed in a dark green overcoat while gripping a walking cane in his right hand. The Wind catches his hair as he gazes out into the landscape before him. The middle ground that is before him also comprises of several other ridges, but different from the one he is standing on. Wreaths of fog cover the forest of trees before him and can be perceived from the top of the escarpment. In the distant horizon, faded mountains can be seen rising from the left side and gently leveling into the lowlands on the eastern side.

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The painting’s composition contains elements derived from Elbe Sandstone Mountains that are found in Bohemia and Saxony. The mountain on the left side of the painting could most probably be Kaltenberg or Rosenberg. The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog stuck closely to the Romantic style, similar to other works by Friedrich such as The Sea of Ice and Chalk Cliffs on Rugen. It is important to acknowledge that painting represents a form of Kantian self-reflection, evident in the wanderer’s gaze into the murky sea of fog that is before him. It seems to represent a metaphor for the wanderer’s unknown future. The Romantic perspective of the world is first and foremost inspired by imagination’s emotive power. In doing so, an artist would be able to reach an understanding of nature and themselves. A painter thus paints not only what he sees before him but also that which is inside him. The Kantian idealism used in the Wanderer above the Sea of Fog painting seeks to express the artist’s receptiveness and looks beyond the interiors of royal palaces and into the wild landscapes. It creates a world of scale, space, and motion in the painter’s artistic imagination.

Description of the Inwangjesakdo painting by Jeong Seon

The Inwangjesakdo painting by Jeong Seon is an ink on paper painting painted in 1751 during the sway of Joseon Dynasty King Yeongjo. The title of the painting translates literally to “After Rain at Mt. Inwang” which was the artist’s portrayal of the of the mountain after the mountain had cleared (Young). The artist is clearly in touch with the environment that surrounds him and makes an attempt to give a depiction of the beauty present in the Korean Peninsula. The genuine paintings of where Jeong Seon lived was responsible for the creation of a genuine Korean Style of painting. Landscapes feature prominently in East Asian art as they are greatly revered by these people. The landscape represents painters codified illustration of a human perspective of nature.

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The painting style in Inwangjesakdo features a prominent mountain looming in the backdrop of an idyllic scene of numerous trees. It is important to that painting of the Korean landscape and native sites were non-existent before Seon’s work. He poignantly presents an accurate depiction of Mount Inwang in Seoul with a cropped composition. The bold and sweeping brushwork used has been vital in capturing that moment when the said moment emerges from the mist. In a way, this painting also a sign of hope that there is always an end to tumultuous times and that there is a silver lining to every cloud. Additionally, Korean Confucianism is present in Seon’s work, through the presentation of an art for that appreciates all the aspects of the universe, living or non-living. Seon is clearly marveled by the beauty of the landscape around him. His own perception of the beauty that lies before him is brought into being by his paintings as an acknowledgment its uniqueness.

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Korean art ,traditionally borrows a lot of its aesthetics from Chinesse and and Japanesse art through the use of similar motifs,forms, techniques and concepts. All these elements were blended I with Korean Confucianiusm to create art that was very distinct. The uniqueness of Seons Korean art lies in his understated simplicity, sponeinity and harmony with nature. His art is one that centres mainly on naturalism, which is noticeable through the period of the Three Kingdoms (c.57 BCE-668). The simple practice of accepting ones nature as sit is, leads Seon to create a work of art that people can develop an appreciation for the arts and their surroundings. There is evidence of a detailed monochromatic art as per Korean Confucianiusm. A class-based distinction was often made, where one was only allowed to see colour in succinct momochromatic paintings. Authors of  in the Korean society were of the opinion that Confucian art was to be viewed within certain gradations because, according to them, the use of color would coarsen the paintings and restrict ones imagination.

A Comparison of The Two Paintings –Wanderer above the Sea of Fog painting by Casper David Friedrich and Inwangjesakdo by Jeong Seon 

Both the Wanderer above the Sea of Fog and Inwangjesakdo paintings are works skillfully crafted to appreciate the landscape. Both painters have taken it upon themselves to paint physical structures that many take for granted in their localities. A depiction of the mountains in this sense is a reminder to people of the beauty that is found in nature and thus should avoid at all cost to take them for granted (Hwan, 11). The artists long for a connection with the natural world that would be represented by the moving paintings that would evoke feelings of admiration from those viewing it. A new age had come in Western Romanticism and Eastern Confucianism where individuals would shift their focus from indoor settings and venture beyond this limiting environment to embrace nature.

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Both painting, however, differ in the manner in which the artists intend to tell nature’s story. Apart from containing physical features, Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog also contains a human angle to the tale. A young individual stands with his back facing the viewer perhaps in awe of finally coming to terms with the beauty that surrounds him. A human angle presents an all round theme of nature, where human beings are also included as part of the equation. Seon’s Inwangjesakdo painting on the other hand only contains the physical aspect of nature. Structures appear, but there are no human beings shown in the paintings. It is widely thought that his intention in this painting was to help people to appreciate the beauty that is found in the physical environment. He does a perfect job when he uses his ink brush on a handmade paper to depict what some ignore on a day to day basis.

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 Paintings offer a window into the human perspective in an assortment matters. The nature theme permeates Wanderer above the Sea of fog by Casper David Friedrich and Inwangjesakdo by Jeong Seon, illustrating a longing by these individuals to connect with their environment. Both paintings attempt to open the eyes of the viewer to a world they the world they had taken for granted and its beauty not appreciated. It is surprising that the study of Korean art is at its formative stages in the West even with it’s detail and authenticity. In the West, this is the situation that often stems from Koreas position.

Experts view it simply as a conduit to transport Chinese culture to the Japanese Archuipelago. What most of there research overlook is the assimilation of ideas that took place in Korea that gave the nation its own distinct art form. It is therefore important to have a holistic approach when appreciating art from different cultures because each area develops a distinct style, even when the art contains borrowed techniques and styles.

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