New publication on the restoration of Caspar David Friedrich’s Monk by the Sea and Abbey in the Oakwood

Alte Nationalgalerie

With Monk by the Sea (1808–10) and Abbey in the Oakwood (1809–10) by Caspar David Friedrich, the Nationalgalerie is home to perhaps the most famous pair of paintings from the period of German Romanticism. Taking a unique radical approach, the artist created two simple yet profound visual formulas, still legitimate today, that contemplate the relations between knowledge and faith, the natural and the divine, and life and death.

Fragile painting techniques, decades of neglect, and past restoration work had considerably altered the appearance of Monk by the Sea and Abbey in the Oakwood and resulted in paint losses, which combined gave a false impression of the artist’s original intent. From 2013 to 2016, we were able to complete the restoration of both works thanks to the generous support of the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Stiftung.

The technical analyses of the works brought important information to light. High-resolution infrared reflectograms revealed the underdrawings of both paintings, giving us greater insight into the artist’s work process. Further imaging techniques, such as x-ray, UV, and raking light, were used to gather more information on how the paintings were made and their present condition, while cross-sections showed how the original layers of paint had been applied.

The restoration simplified the compositional structure of the paintings considerably. We were able to uncover the original paintwork by removing layers of overpaint and retouching that had been added at a later stage. The removal of the severely discoloured layers of varnish made it possible to identify changes to the colour values and return them to their original state.  After 200 years, the newly restored underlying blue tone in the two most iconic paintings of German Romantic art establishes a clear link between the two works. Many aspects of Monk and Abbey can now be seen in a new light.

The Monk Has Returned, a special exhibition on the research and restoration project, attracted more than 100,000 visitors between 21 January and 24 July 2016. The recently published book of the same name describes the latest discoveries and discusses the approach and methods applied during the restoration work as well as the results of the treatments that were undertaken.

Edited by Kristina Mösl and Philipp Demandt
German/English, 32 pages, 12 foldouts, 48 colour illustrations
Soft cover with long-stitch binding, 22 x 28 cm
Price: €9.95
ISBN 978-3-88609-787-6

The publication (German/English) can be purchased in the online shop of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.