“I have to stay alone in order to fully contemplate and feel nature. The painter should paint not only what he has in front of him, but also what he sees inside himself.” —Caspar David Friedrich
The term “Rückenfigur” (“figure from the back”) comes from the 19th-century German Romanticism movement. Popularized by artists such as Caspar David Friedrich, it describes paintings in which a figure is portrayed with his or her back toward the viewer, allowing the viewer to vicariously experience the figure’s perspective of the beholden scene and his or her emotional state. Despite concealing the face of the person portrayed, this form of portraiture is prevalent in contemporary paintings, film, photography, and even popular culture. Rückenfigur works ultimately achieve a paradoxical effect: while the subject’s pose invites the viewer into the scene, their turned back often communicates a mood of isolation or melancholy.