Wanderer above the Sea of Fog

Romanticism is my favourite artistic movement, and form of art. It just speaks, I think, in a way that most modern art doesn't. But the piece of art I most love from the Romantics, is the stunning piece Wanderer above the Sea of Fog. I first discovered it back in my Freshman year of high school. I was confused, disoriented, busy, struggling to get through hours of homework a night, and several exams a week. School was really screwing me over. And then I saw this painting. I don't remember where. And it just helped me get through it all.

In the Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, a man with red hair, wearing a green overcoat, with a walking stick in his right hand. He is standing at what appears to be the summit, or at least an overhang or precipice of a mountain, a craggy rock formation, with rocks going every which way. He has his back turned to the viewer, facing out, over, well, a sea of fog. Several other crags and peaks dot the middleground. Finally, rising out of the sea of fog, are several slopes, breaking through, before, in the distance, you can see two final main mountains, and still more slopes. As always, of course, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog

One thing I would like to draw your attention to are the trees. Notice how they are relatively sparse, and, when shown, most noticeably on the left most middle crag, and left most slope, are muted. Especially on the left most slope, most appear to have been essentially smudged out, merged together.

All that said, it's now time to get into acting like some English teacher, and analyzing the painting. Just like to point out the main reason I'm doing this cause I love it (this painting), and want an excuse to think about and look at it more.

So, why the thing with the trees? Well, I think the trees are made to be small, to show the contrast between nature, and our hero, the main man. It could be shown that the man can pass through these small things with no care, regarding the trees, hundreds of years in the making, as mere obstacles to be passed through his objectives. It could be used to say that the man is simply above nature. As is also evidenced by his being literally above a sea of clouds, above the trees. It could be used to elevate this man, possibly looking back on something he has accomplished, saying that in hindsight great obstacles are now small. But at the same time, it could be that he is looking towards the future, ignoring the great obstacles which are about to provide him some difficulty. Both of which show a form of arrogance, a specific form typical in all humans, that of ignoring or diminishing obstacles, both in hindsight and in foresight.

Now, what does the fog mean? Well, the traveler is quite literally above it, by a decent bit. And he's looking over it. He is most likely contemplating something. He has his hand in his pocket, and the other holding on to his walking stick, at ease. You don't do that while in action, especially on terrain such as the one he is on. So, what is he contemplating? Well, there are two main possibilities. Both of which provide me solace when I am confronted by difficulties, by obstacles, by trees. The two main possibilities being that he is overlooking what he has done. He is considering what got him to the point he is at now. How he climbed so high. And while he is contemplating the past, he is ignoring the overlooking the difficulties. They were meaningless in the end. He is looking at his past more abstractly, more humanly, as if many parts are now gone, covered in a sea of fog. Only certain extra challenging parts, very vertical climbs, which almost got him to the high point he is at now, and extremely easy, gentle slopes are immediately visible to him. The rest are all hidden. And while looking back, he also sees what could have been. He could have instead summitted one of the other distant mountains in the back.

The other possibility is that he looking onto his future. He doesn't know what's to come. He understands there will be some difficulty, some trees, but he looks past them. Ignores them. To him, the journey he is about to take in covered in a sea of fog. Instead, he looks toward what he wishes to do, to summit the distant mountain. The few parts before the mountain that he sees are the easy sloping mounds. However, those uneven rocks, those craggles in the middleground, have their bases, the main part he will encounter, most likely also uneven and also difficult, covered in fog. He is contemplating his future, but ignoring the difficult part, not seeing what's about to happen.

Now, let's look more specifically on the man himself, rather than the terrain he is in. He is wearing a clean, spiffy, overcoat, the color of nature (green). He has a white collar sticking out from it though. Looking at his hair, it is clear that he is somewhere windy, however interestingly the direction the wind is pushing his hair is different from the direction the wind is pushing the fog. Could this signify that he has not fully acclimated? He holds his walking stick, and looks back leisurely. He is clearly not exhausted. Of course, he could have recovered, which would have allowed the fog in his mind to form over the journey behind him. He is also wearing fairly dressy shoes, which are not yet dirty.

In fact, looking at his attire, and comparing it to what surrounds him, one starts to notice a slight difference. He is not dirty, not dressed in clothes to become dirty. Once again, I mention he is at leisure. His hair is blowing the wrong direction. Could he just be contemplating what could have happened. He has what appears to be a walking stick, but could be a cane. Is it possible that it's not him considering what happened or could have happened, but rather what he wishes would happen?

I would like to let the reader off with a quote from Ode on a Grecian Urn:

"Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter" -Keats

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