Departure Alone on the Summit,
Gazing into the Distance

Only a few more steps to go – the perfect photo opportunity is just within reach!

The wind caresses your face. You’re bursting with pride to have made it to the top. You drink in the view, which stirs a deep yearning within you as you wonder what lies beneath this blanket of fog …

In the painting Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, all these experiences come together. It is one of the most-referenced works of art ever made. A visual template for tens of thousands of travel photos. The artist Caspar David Friedrich painted it around 1817.

The painter himself was also regularly seized by wanderlust, describing the feeling like this:

Quickly I hurried through the streets,
to come to green pastures,
where the air is freer and purer,
and one is filled with a sense of joy.

Caspar David Friedrich

Excerpt from a letter from Friedrich to his brother Heinrich and his friend Joachim Praefke, undated, sometime around 1803 (only available in German)

We can still feel Friedrich’s enthusiasm and sense of joyful anticipation today. But the world of travel was different 200 years ago – it would still take a few more decades for trains and steamships to appear, and airplanes were still a pipedream.

When the painter moved to Dresden around 1800, he often explored the surrounding area on foot. He sometimes afforded himself a trip by horse-drawn carriage to the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. The area is also known as “Saxon Switzerland” and lies on the border of Saxony and the Czech Republic.

Friedrich went with the times – spending time in nature and hiking became a fashionable leisure activity around 1800. However, there was one travel fad that the painter notably did not go in for: he never traveled to Italy, although this country was the universally acclaimed must-see destination for most of his fellow artists.

As a pastime, tourism quickly grew and benefited from developments in the world of industry. In 1839, Saxon Switzerland was accessible for the first time by steamboat from Dresden, a service that is still in operation today. We don’t know whether Friedrich ever took it. At least after his first stroke in 1835, he stopped traveling.