Wanderer above the Sea of Fog
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Even if you’ve never laid eyes on Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog before, it likely feels familiar.

Perhaps because it is considered to be one of the Romantics period’s masterpieces or more likely it reminds you of that time around 2013 when all movie posters started to look the exact same.

It was a simple formula: a tiny silhouette of a man’s back amidst a gigantic apocalyptic wasteland. Star Trek into Darkness and Inception are just two examples of the posters inspired by this painting. While the composition was borrowed, the intent was ignored. Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog gives a sense of wonder, an awe of experiencing nature in solitude.

The posters on the other hand invite you to wonder how the heck the protagonist will overcome such overwhelming odds so you'll purchase a ticket to get your answer. In this painting, the implication is that the natural landscape we see is untouched by man and that is part of its beauty. In the posters, we see a world likely ruined by man and there's no beauty to be had.

Movie posters finding inspiration in famous artwork is not uncommon: Midnight in Paris directly borrows out of Starry Night, and Scream was inspired by, well the obvious. There are plenty of other examples, but typically they are just one-offs directly inspired by the art due to some aspect of the plot. Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog’s composition on the other hand, was used so often it seemed to be the industry standard for advertising disaster and sci-fi films. It’s possible the success of Inception led to the poster style being recreated by other designers who weren’t even aware of the painting at all.

While our artist Friedrich was adamant that there was no intended deeper meanings to his work beyond the impression it leaves on the viewer, he’d likely still find the switch from wonder to hopelessness to be a strange homage to his work. He’d appreciate certain aspects perhaps, such as the symmetry present in the Inception poster.

Friedrich loved nature, but he also loved using geometry to improve it. So instead of faithfully depicting a natural scene, like the Himalayan Landscape, Friedrich combined different rock formations to refine the landscapes into a more visually pleasing symmetry. The landscape in this painting is not based on any one mountain, but instead borrows elements from the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, Zirkelstein, possibly either the Rosenberg or the Kaltenberg among other possible rock formations used as inspiration.



  1. Britt, Ryan. "The 19th Century Painting That Most Blockbuster Movie Posters Are Based On." September 21, 2018. Accessed April 28, 2019. the-19th-century-painting-that-most-blockbuster-movie-posters-are-based-on/
  2. "Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog." German Culture. April 07, 2018. Accessed April 28, 2019.
  3. Wolf, Norbert. Caspar David Friedrich: 1774-1840: The Painter of Stillness. Köln: Taschen, 2015.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Wanderer above the Sea of Fog

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (German: Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer), also known as Wanderer above the Mist or Mountaineer in a Misty Landscape, is an oil painting c. 1818 by the German Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich. It has been considered one of the masterpieces of Romanticism and one of its most representative works. It currently resides in the Kunsthalle Hamburg in Hamburg, Germany.


In the foreground, a young man stands upon a rocky precipice with his back to the viewer. He is wrapped in a dark green overcoat, and grips a walking stick in his right hand. His hair caught in a wind, the wanderer gazes out on a landscape covered in a thick sea of fog. In the middle ground, several other ridges, perhaps not unlike the ones the wanderer himself stands upon, jut out from the mass. Through the wreaths of fog, forests of trees can be perceived atop these escarpments. In the far distance, faded mountains rise in the left, gently leveling off into lowland plains in the right. Beyond here, the pervading fog stretches out indefinitely, eventually commingling with the horizon and becoming indistinguishable from the cloud-filled sky.

The painting is composed of various elements from the Elbe Sandstone Mountains in Saxony and Bohemia, sketched in the field but in accordance with his usual practice, rearranged by Friedrich himself in the studio for the painting. In the background to the right is the Zirkelstein. The mountain in the background to the left could be either the Rosenberg or the Kaltenberg. The group of rocks in front of it represent the Gamrig near Rathen. The rocks on which the traveler stands are a group on the Kaiserkrone.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Wanderer above the Sea of Fog.