So, I was thinking of doing a quick Halloween-related post, you know, maybe just post a picture that was sufficiently spooky and Gothic for the occasion… Well, as it turns out, the most Halloween-y picture I could think of is this:
It was painted in 1828 by Ernst Ferdinand Oehme (1797-1855) and, in my opinion, has everything a good Halloween picture needs. Admittedly, it’s far from the axe-wielding zombie-apocalypse kind of horror, but on the contrary quite subtle and suggestive – and therefore all the more intense. Oehme’s painting leaves us wondering what is actually going on: Are these just ‘normal’ monks doing a procession in bad weather? Is it a funeral procession? Or, perhaps, is this an otherworldly appearance as the dense fog somehow seems to suggest? Can the small bridge they seem to just have crossed be read as the border between this world and the netherworld? After all, in folklore rivers and bridges often serve as markers for such borders. And the then relatively new genre of the Gothic Novel was full of ghostly monks…
Ok, that was my Halloween post, but if you’re willing to bear with me for a little longer, let me tell you a little more about Oehme who, I believe, is a quite fascinating artist but rather overlooked, especially outside of the German-speaking world. Now, those of you familiar with German Romantic painting will have realised that Oehme’s Procession in the Fog owes a lot to the work of Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), the most important German landscape painter of his time. Just take a look at Friedrich’s famous Abbey in the Oakwood (1808-1810) which has indeed a lot in common with Oehme’s later painting:
In Friedrich’s case, though, the painting unmistakably shows a funeral procession in the foreground and for all the mystic, Gothic atmosphere it conjures up, is clearly intended as a kind of memento mori. Indeed, one could say that the big difference between Friedrich and Oehme is that the former always tries to convey some sort of meaning in his works, turning his landscapes into highly symbolic compositions. Oehme, on the other hand, appears to imitate Friedrich’s subjects and Friedrich’s style while lacking Friedrich’s depth – his paintings may be puzzling and evocative, but mostly they don’t seem to have a ‘message’.
This may even be true for Oehme’s most famous painting, Cathedral in Winter, which marked his breakthrough as an artist when he exhibited it at the Academy of Fine Arts in Dresden in 1821.
It’s not all that surprising then that in his later work, beginning in the 1830s, Oehme gave up his Gothic moods altogether and turned to a kind of landscape painting that was devoid of all symbolism and interested only in depicting the physical reality of a landscape instead:
In a way then, Oehme surpassed Friedrich, leaving the paths of Romanticism in favour of a more Realist approach and perhaps it’s not even exaggerated to say that his later works show remarkable parallels to what the Barbizon School was doing in France at the same time. Which is all the more reason why Oehme deserves our attention…
But since this was supposed to be a Halloween post, let me conclude it with one more painting from Oehme’s ‘Gothic phase’:
Who’s the lonesome horseman? And, perhaps more importantly, who’s going to answer the door when he seeks entrance? Will it be good ole Igor?