What does ‘Wanderlust’ really mean?
‘Wandering’ is an expression that feels somehow very luxurious and romantic to me; it makes me think of a movement that is slow, unhurried and meaningful, of someone who takes pleasure and joy in walking at their own gentle pace, taking the time to contemplate life as they wander – I can’t help but be reminded of the hymn, ‘I wonder as I wander’! At the same time, I feel that wandering could just be about the act in itself, the very journey that is being carried out as one wanders. I know that when I set out for a wander, my only intention is to do just that, nothing else must be achieved during my wander except the actual wander itself and maybe that is what is so luxurious!
When we pair these feelings about wandering with a kind of lust or a desire, ‘wanderlust’ seems to embody a deeper state of mind, a psychology combined with a passion. Perhaps wanderlust symbolises a connection with nature or a world traveller, maybe it’s about an artist looking for inspiration. Perhaps too, at its core, wanderlust really epitomises the tumultuous journey through life.
I hadn’t really thought much about the meaning of wanderlust, or how I felt about it, until I visited the wonderful ‘Wanderlust’ exhibition at the Alte Nationalgalerie on Museum Island in Berlin. The exhibition aims to explore all of these different concepts surrounding wanderlust, it’s many dimensions and the allegories that represent its ideas, found in the paintings of artists such as Caspar David Friedrich and Auguste Renoir, and it is the first ever art exhibition in the world to focus on this theme! I actually found the exhibition and the artwork that was presented so powerful and enlightening that I just can’t believe that this has never been done before!
Firstly, if you are a fan of the 19th century German Romantic painter, Caspar David Friedrich, you absolutely have to get to the exhibition. There is an entire room dedicated to his work, which includes the infamous ‘Wanderer Above The Sea Of Fog’, completed in 1818. I had wanted to see this painting for a long time, so this was a definite pull for me, and I was pretty awestruck by it! It is so immense in its ideas, one lone man facing the world, shrouded in a mysterious haze, not knowing what lies beneath the fog… David Friedrich was one of the first painters to present figures with their backs to the viewer, and I find this adds such a personal but dramatic element to the ideas of the painting as well; we see what the man standing in the painting sees, his view is also our view so we could almost be him. Our attention is drawn, not to him, but to what he is looking at, and that is so interesting!
I was extremely happy to be introduced to some other incredible paintings by David Friedrich at the exhibition too. I find his work to be very quietly powerful. It’s not pretentious, or ‘showy-offy’. It is humble and yet it addresses huge questions concerning life, the world, humanity… There was another portrait at the exhibition which was painted of David Friedrich working in his studio. I was interested to learn that his workspace was utterly minimal; literally just an easel and canvas. Apparently, he hated any kind of mess in his work environment, as when he was painting he wanted only to live in that world, with no reminders of his ‘real’ life. I love to learn these snippets of information about artists whom I admire; it gives them such a character and personality in my mind and lets me see their work with more of them in it.
I saw several other fabulous paintings, but one that really stayed with me was ‘The Wetterhorn Mountain’ by Karl Eduard Biermann, from 1830. It is difficult to see clearly in the photo below (click on the image to enlarge it), but there are two haggard and struggling climbers which contrast so starkly with the awesome and brilliant white mountain peaks. Nature is all-powerful in this painting, while man seems so weak, human life so short and fleeting compared to the indestructible mountains and valleys. I love the darkness and the light, I love the personality of both nature and humanity, and I find this painting altogether very inspiring!
The exhibition has so much to offer; there are, of course, very grand paintings as well as small sketches, sculptures and even music videos, including one by the Icelandic singer, Bjork. In total, there are over 120 pieces of work on display, all arranged into different sections which showcase different aspects of Wanderlust, from ‘The Discovery of Nature‘ to ‘Life’s Journey‘, ‘Artists Wanderings‘, ‘Landscapes‘ and more.
As I wandered around the exhibition, it struck me just how poetic it all really was! I was wandering through a ‘Wanderlust’ exhibition, contemplating beautiful works of art presenting ideas of wanderlust, as I myself experienced wanderlust. In a beautiful twist of meta, wanderlust became the very act of going to the exhibition!
The exhibition is open until the 16th September (2018) and if you happen to be in Berlin until then I SO encourage you to go! It takes roughly 2.5 hours to see it all, and I recommend getting the audio guide, unless all you really want to do is wander!