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Home>Collection & Louvre Palace>Curatorial Departments>Cemetery in a Wood

Cemetery and Ruins Overrun with Trees

© 1999 RMN / Franck Raux

German painting

Guillaume Kazerouni

A figure from the German Romantic period

After brief architectural studies at the Berlin Academy, Lessing, the grand nephew of the writer and art critic Gotthold Ephraim, became the student of Dähling in the same institution. He left the capital in October 1826 to return to Düsseldorf, where Wilhelm von Schadow had just been named director of the Academy. Lessing became known as one of the most representative figures of the Düsseldorf school of German Romantic painting. Cemetery in a Wood, recently acquired by the Louvre, is one of the painter's first masterpieces and already displays the characteristic qualities of his art.

A youthful work

The painting was dated September 1826 by the artist, one month before he departed for Düsseldorf. It is therefore a youthful work, but one in which Lessing's mastery and style are already evident. A preparatory study in the Cincinnati Art Museum bears the date March 9, 1826, and reveals the rapidity with which the painting was completed. The painting was first shown at the Berlin Academy that same year, and was enthusiastically received by critics. It shows an imaginary scene of a neglected cemetery under a heady sky through which a single ray of light illuminates the tombstone in the center. The tombs are in disorder, and the Gothic ruins are overrun by weeds and leafy branches. They are the true subjects of this meditation on death and the passing of time.

A Romantic painting

This work adopts a theme cherished by German Romanticism, that of the cemetery and church ruins. First emerging in literature, Romanticism became fashionable in England and Germany before spreading throughout Europe. It favored emotion over reason and imagination over critical analysis. Nature played a central role in the movement, reflecting human emotions and serving as a vector for melancholy, anxiety, and the fantastic. To a degree, Romantic landscapes adopt the same spiritual approach as is found in genre scenes and vanitas. This is especially true of the German painters and, in particular, Lessing and Friedrich. Their works display the same expression of anxiety, tinged with religiosity, when faced with the human condition, man's place in the world, his relationship to the divine, and his imminent mortality. All of these elements can be found in Lessing's serene and metaphysical scene, which, unlike Friedrich's paintings, is not attempting to depict an actual place.

Technical description

  • Carl Friedrich LESSING (Breslau, 1808 - Karlsruhe, 1880)

    Cemetery and Ruins Overrun with Trees

    Dated September 28, 1826

  • H. 1.12 m; W. 1.63 m

  • Acquired from the bequest of Jacques Moreau (1906–1998) to
    the Société des Amis du Louvre in 1999 , 1999

    R.F. 1999-10

  • Paintings

    Richelieu wing
    2nd floor
    Germany and Russia, first half of the 19th century
    Room 863

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