|The Monk by the Sea, 1808-10, oil on canvas|
Insignificant before nature the small figure sits just below the horizon, visually swamped by the sea and sky before him. The 'monk', sometimes seen as the figure of the artist, appears to float on the sand. Barely grounded yet centreing the composition. Originally met with bemusement and even annoyance the work is now seen as a forerunner to abstraction, appearing almost like a Rothko if the figure is removed.
Yet the work sits firmly within German Romanticism, presenting the Sublime in its purest form, focusing on the loneliness and ambiguity of what it is to be human faced with the magnitude of the expanse of nature and eternity.
We hear the waves crash and stare towards the distant horizon, overcome by the mystery of why we are even standing on this sand.