Two Men Contemplating the Moon

Caspar David Friedrich (German, Greifswald 1774–1840 Dresden)

ca. 1825–30
Oil on canvas
13 3/4 x 17 1/4 in. (34.9 x 43.8 cm)
Credit Line:
Wrightsman Fund, 2000
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    These two figures are seen from behind so that the viewer may participate in their communion with nature. They have been identified as Friedrich, at right, and his friend and disciple August Heinrich (1794–1822). Fascination with the moon ran high among the German Romantics, who regarded the motif as an object of pious contemplation. This is the third version of one of Friedrich’s most famous compositions, of which the first was painted during Heinrich’s lifetime (1819; Gemäldegalerie, Dresden) and the second soon after his death (ca. 1824; Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin).

  • Provenance

    Dr. Otto Friedrich Rosenberg, Dresden (by 1840–d. 1850; acquired from the artist in exchange for medical attention); his daughter, Theophila Minna Rosenberg, Dresden (by 1850–presumably until d. 1882); by descent through the Rosenberg family, Wuppertal-Barmen, later Hamburg, to Gottfried Spiegler, Glinde (until 1999; sale, Christie's, London, October 7, 1999, no. 10, for £771,500 [approx. $1,277,000] to Artemis); [Artemis Fine Arts, New York, 1999–2000; sold to MMA]

  • Exhibition History

    Dortmund. Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte. "Caspar David Friedrich: Winterlandschaften," 1990, no. 37 (as "Zwei Männer in Betrachtung des Mondes," lent by a private collector, Hamburg).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Caspar David Friedrich: Moonwatchers," September 11–November 11, 2001, no. 3 (as "Two Men Contemplating the Moon [Zwei Männer in Betrachtung des Mondes"]).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions," October 24, 2008–February 1, 2009, online catalogue.

  • References

    Johan Christian Dahl. Letter to Dresden Gëmaldegalerie. September 26, 1840 [published in Christie's sale cat., October 7, 1999, p. 19], remarks that Friedrich made several copies of the Dresden picture.

    Werner Sumowski. Caspar David Friedrich-Studien. Wiesbaden, 1970, p. 179, fig. 395, mentions it as a replica of the Dresden picture; as in a private collection of a family in Wuppertal-Barmen to whose ancestor, Fritz von Rosenberg, Friedrich gave it.

    Helmut Börsch-Supan and Karl Wilhelm Jähnig. Caspar David Friedrich: Gemälde, Druckgraphik und bildmässige Zeichnungen. Munich, 1973, pp. 356, 415–16, no. 366, ill. (color), as "Zwei Manner in Betrachtung des Mondes" in a private collection at Wuppertal-Barmen.

    Hans-Werner Grohn in Werner Hofmann. Caspar David Friedrich, 1774–1840. Exh. cat., Hamburger Kunsthalle. Munich, 1974, p. 227.

    Helmut Börsch-Supan. L'opera completa di Friedrich. Milan, 1976, p. 105, no. 182, ill., calls it "Due uomini davanti alla luna" and dates it about 1829; as in a private collection in Wuppertal-Barmen; states that, according to family tradition, Friedrich gave it to his doctor Fritz von Rosenberg.

    John Leighton in Caspar David Friedrich: Winter Landscape. Exh. cat., National Gallery. London, 1990, pp. 41, 70 [German ed., "Caspar David Friedrich: Winterlandschaften," (Heidelberg), 1990, pp. 136, 138, no. 37, ill. (color)].

    Gary Tinterow and Sabine Rewald in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 1999–2000." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 58 (Fall 2000), p. 36, ill. (color), call it the second of three works on this theme and note that in this version Friedrich is thought to have painted it in remembrance of his favorite student, August Heinrich, who had died recently; remark that the images of the fir, gnarled oak, and rising moon are subject to interpretation.

    Philippe de Montebello in Sabine Rewald. Caspar David Friedrich: Moonwatchers. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2001, p. 6.

    Kasper Monrad in Sabine Rewald. Caspar David Friedrich: Moonwatchers. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2001, pp. 23, 27.

    Sabine Rewald. Caspar David Friedrich: Moonwatchers. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2001, pp. 7, 18–19, 31, 33–35, no. 3, ill. (color, overall and detail on cover), calls it "Two Men Contemplating the Moon (Zwei Männer in Betrachtung des Mondes)," dates it about 1830, one of two versions Friedrich painted of the work in Dresden and the one more like the original; remarks that it retains the luminosity of the Berlin version, yet reintroduces the complicity between the figures of the Dresden painting; notes that there is no underdrawing.

    Roberta Smith. "The Primly Austere, and Occasionally Dark Side of the Moon." New York Times (September 14, 2001), p. E30, ill.

    Sabine Rewald in The Wrightsman Pictures. New York, 2005, pp. 342–45, no. 96, ill. (color).

    Sabine Rewald in Masterpieces of European Painting, 1800–1920, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, pp. 17, 249, no. 15, ill. (color and black and white).

  • Notes

    This is a variant of a painting of 1819 that shows the same gnarled oak but different figures and a dramatic night sky (B-S 261; Gemäldegalerie Neue Meister, Dresden, inv. no. 2194). A second variant of about 1825 depicts a man and a woman at dusk, "Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon" (B-S XLIII; Gemäldegalerie, Berlin).

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History