Watzmann is one of the most famous mountain ranges used in German Romanticism.
According to legend the range originated when King Watz and his family were turned into stone and some summits are referred to as Big Watz, Watzfrau ( Lady Watz) and Watzkinder.
Casper David Friedrich never laid eyes on the mountains but used a watercolour by one of his students. The rockformations featured on the foreground were drawn into detail in other locations by the artist. He combined the accurate topography with a typical romantic staging.
The capricious rocks in front flanked by abysses left and right form a rather dramatic prelude to the mountain peaks. The tension between rising and falling forces featured in the foreground takes us to the symbol of peace and eternity in the background.
The work can be considered as the prototype of visionary, religiously inspired landscape painting.
This heavily laden with meanings painting is the experimenting playground for artist Stijn Cole. Without previous viewing of the original work, he copies the painting full scale into a black and white drawing. This not so much as a sketch but as an exact transcriptial of each topographic detail. The grain in the large paper makes it difficult to match the detail and deepest tones of the painting . This copy is confronted with a colour analysis based on a coloured reproduction of the original painting. In both cases a distance towards reality is created: the black and white sketch was made after a photograph and the colour analysis is presumably based on the different colors of the reproduction.
In the works of Friedrich drawing and color are equivalent components of the painting. In Romanticism this is rather exceptional as it is mostly pictorial.
Stijn Cole is working his way into the dualism of the painting. On the one hand, he needed an imperfect black and white copy that is reminiscent of 19th century reproduction graphics by copying from engravings as was often done in the academies of the 18th and 19th century. Throughout this process he looks back into the past and joins the countless historical manipulations found in Friedrich’s image. On the other hand he looks at the composition of the paintings -Friedrich’s colour spectrum- in an analysis reminiscent of the still steadily growing material-technical analysis which ancient masterpieces recently become subjected to.
This analysis in turn led to a pictorial transformation on the canvas.
The painted canvas is square, only the height is determined by the size of the original painting.
Stijn Cole manages to devise a system and develops clear, almost simple results. These however hide a complex set of concerns and relationships.
The starting point seems random and without obligation: the choice of Friedrich, the reproduction technology and its derived products. The method however is systematic.
The Great Watzman is the last and largest in a series in which the artist copies, interprets and analyzes various works of Friedrich. This project also fits into a wider range of investigations of the components of natural reproduction, the conditions that influence our perception and the graphic and pictorial possibilities offered by such research.
Hidden amongst the detachment in Stijn Cole’s work process is a great interest in the ancient art of landscape painting together with a personal affection towards nature – a feeling rarely admitted nowadays.
The mix of scientific experiment and emotional empathy is something he shares with the Romantic painters of the time of Friedrich himself.
In his method Stijn Cole seems to hand over the emotional experience of nature to external factors and the logic of the experiment which he than brings together in his artwork.
But it is nevertheless filled with emotion: emotion in experiencing art, nature and the joy of drawing and painting.
Director of The Museum of Fine Arts Ghent