Two Men Contemplating the Moon by Caspar David Friedrich


Two Men Contemplating the Moon (Zwei Männer in Betrachtung des Mondes) is an oil painting by the German Romantic artist, Caspar David Friedrich.

Friedrich painted three versions of this famous composition in his lifetime. In this version, dated c. 1819–20, scholars have identified the two figures as Friedrich (right) and his younger friend and disciple, August Heinrich.

The painting is held by the Galerie Neue Meister in Dresden, Germany.

What is the connection between this painting and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot?

Samuel Beckett’s biographer, James Knowlson, has revealed that the playwright claimed he had used Two Men Contemplating the Moon as visual inspiration for his ground-breaking first play, Waiting for Godot (1953).[1] Beckett saw the work on a visit to Germany in 1937. It captures perfect, simple stillness – a quality that Beckett greatly admired in painting, and which he pursued throughout his career in his own writing.

The first visual connection between Friedrich’s composition and Waiting for Godot is suggested by the play’s iconic opening scene setting:

A country road. A tree.

Later, the painting is strongly evoked in a scene at the end of Act 1. Here, Beckett visually echoes Friedrich’s composition (the stage directions describe the moon ‘stand[ing] still, shedding a pale light’, as Estragon and Vladimir stand by the tree), quotes the title of Friedrich’s painting (Estragon ‘contemplates the moon’) and pours a snatch of elevated, poetic speech out of Estragon’s mouth (he is ‘Pale for weariness … Of climbing heaven and gazing on the likes of us’) that, one could argue, creates a surprising moment of self-awareness regarding his and Vladimir’s condition. Beckett actually wrote ‘K.D. Friedrich’ next to notes on this scene within his directorial notebook for the Berlin Schiller Theatre production of 1965. The visual appears again at the end of Act 2, closing the play.

Beckett and the visual arts

In recent decades Beckett scholars and practitioners have explored the playwright’s relationship with the visual arts (particularly painting). Knowlson writes of his ‘remarkable ability to draw on his knowledge of one artistic medium and see its possibilities for transformation and use in another’.[2] Equally, Beckett has been positioned as a strongly visual playwright: ‘He writes paintings’, observed actress and lifelong-Beckett collaborator, Billie Whitelaw.[3]

[1] James Knowlson, Images of Beckett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 53–54.

[2] Knowlson, Images of Beckett, pp. 53–54

[3] Billie Whitelaw, in a telephone conversation with Ruby Cohn, quoted in Ruby Cohn, Just Play: Beckett’s Theater (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), p. 31.

Full title:
Two Men Contemplating the Moon (Zwei Männer in Betrachtung des Mondes)
c. 1819–20
Painting / Image
Caspar David Friedrich
Usage terms

Galerie Neue Meister, Dresden, Germany © Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden/Bridgeman Images

Held by
The Bridgeman Art Library
Bridgeman image number: SKD220918. Gallery Inventory Number: Gal.-Nr. 2194

Full catalogue details

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