3 Surprising Paintings of Women by Caspar David Friedrich

Intimate depictions, romantic connotations

Christopher P Jones
5 min readMar 2

(L-R): Lady on the Staircase (c.1825) by Caspar David Friedrich; Woman at a Window (c.1822) by Caspar David Friedrich; Woman with a Candlestick (1825) by Caspar David Friedrich.

The German painter Caspar David Friedrich did more than perhaps any other artist to establish the Romantic tradition in painting.

In art, Romanticism sought to reveal the intangible side of existence, emphasising the power of imagination to reveal hidden realms of feeling. Intuition and instinct were prized, as was individual experience over universal dictates of beauty and aesthetic harmony.

During this period, artists, musicians and writers deliberately turned to their inner convictions for inspiration, as well as to nature with its raw and sometimes uncontrollable struggle for survival, reflecting many of the themes of universal human experience.

Known largely as a painter of brooding, enigmatic landscapes, Friedrich imbued his art with a heightened mood, one that transformed nature into a protagonist in the drama of human life.

However, on rare occasions he would turn his attention to more intimate scenes. Here I’ve chosen three such paintings, all of which depict a female presence, who becomes the focal point of his evocative art.

Lady on the Staircase

Lady on the Staircase (c.1825) by Caspar David Friedrich. Oil on canvas. 73.6 × 52 cm. Pomeranian State Museum, Greifswald, Germany. Image source Wikimedia Commons

In 1825, Friedrich created this painting, depicting his wife Caroline ascending a steep staircase inside their home.

The pair had married in 1818, when the artist was 44 and his new wife 25 years old. From 1820, they had three children: two daughters, Emma and Agnes Adelheid, and a son, Gustav Adolf.

Painted with a deft sense of proportion and depth, the staircase leads from the sombre lower steps into a lighted passage. On the wall behind Caroline is an unlit lamp fastened to the wall within a cone-shaped holder. The shape of this holder explains the curving sweep of light coming from the stairs above Caroline’s head.

There is more than a hint of spiritual promise in the painting. Indeed, many of Friedrich’s early paintings made direct reference to Christianity through fantastic apparitions of…