Snap! Which is the older of these two remarkably similar paintings?

7th January 2012
So which do you think is the older of these two remarkably similar paintings?
painting of remote seashore, stormy sky, solitary figure
painting of knight stranding by horse, white, in woodland setting
Well, all right, I'm probably guilty of winding you up a bit here, because they are not at all 'similar' when we first look at them.

Or are they?

The first is called 'Monk by the Sea' and is by Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840). It was painted about 1809. The second is 'Sir Galahad' by G.F.Watts (1817-1904) and was painted in 1862, so more recent. The Friedrich, however, looks almost modern. It reminds us of the 20th century abstract work of someone like Rothko, while the Watts has all the hall-marks of Victorian Gothic or Medieval Revivalism, which many people regard as old fashioned in the extreme. Neither are old fashioned, of course. They are both as relevant and up-to-the-minute as can be. At least I think so. Here's why:


Everyone is searching for something. Whether we know it or not or like it or not, our lives are all about seeking - even if it is only the next meal! It is reflected in our love of motion and travel, always going somewhere, never at rest. More properly, perhaps, it is reflected in our eternal quest for love in all its forms, from the most physical to the most spiritual.

Both these paintings show someone on a quest. The monk on the seashore is seeking his spiritual experience in isolation, in self-denial, taking himself off from all the minutia of civilisation and reuniting with the vastness of nature. A chance to think! Sir Galahad, meanwhile, is off on his quest to seek the Holy Grail, his search for spiritual union with God and which leads him through a vivid landscape of austerity and hardship, too.

I love these paintings. I love the Friedrich because of the vastness of the sky and ocean, and the humble figure amidst it all. It is very redolent of Chinese painting, in which the landscapes are often put into context by including a tiny human figure - say, at the foot of a mountain.

I love the G.F.Watts because of the curvaceous forms within. Look at the way the horse's neck is echoed in the curve of the tree-trunk above him, or in the gentle curve of the shield on the knight's back! Sir Galahad, too, is deep in thought and contemplation. Perhaps he is thinking, 'there are no straight lines or straight answers to this searching lark! The path is all wonderfully curvaceous and winding, like mother nature herself.'
Authored by Robert Stephen Parry

PS Happy New Year!

I hope you enjoy your coming quest through 2012. Remember, though, it might just involve being still sometimes. Which brings me to a little line of verse that really is old:
'Without going outside you may know the whole world,
Without looking through the window, you may see the ways of heaven,'

     Tao Te Ching (6th century BC)

You might also like

Belle Epoque
The artist Aubrey Beardsley - a brief biography
drawing of woman in long robes, fine line with red block colour at top
Elizabeth Siddal. A reminder of why we remember.
close up detail shows face of young woman, pensive, red hair
Victoria’s Embankment – a story of progress
painting of Victorian embankment London, with St Pauls and river Thames
Historical Novel
The Arrow Chest. Pre-Raphaelite themed story.
head and shoulders of young woman with dark hair, profile, arms raised