Johan Christian Dahl painted the aptly titled View of Dresden by Moonlight in 1839.
According to the Metropolitan Museum, “Johan Christian Dahl was [Caspar David] Friedrich’s friend and upstairs neighbor in Dresden from 1823 on…Dahl adopted from Friedrich the mysterious, mood-enhancing effects of dusk, fog, moon, and twilight.”
That suggests, though, a more dramatic scene than View of Dresden.
True, there’s an element of mystery in the bright, but partially obscured, moon—especially in contrast to the red-orange glow of the illuminated windows on the far bank and the fires on the near—but the scene is unusually matter-of-fact.
A close look, for example, at the domed building in the distance reveals precise and neatly delineated architectural details: the antithesis of enigma. The women hanging laundry in the near left corner add to the prosaic effect.
Yet the very concessions Dahl makes to concreteness also make the scene as compelling as it is. The disunity of color between the sky and the iced-over river, at first perhaps seeming to reflect a disappointing unwillingness to idealize, produces conflict in an otherwise largely uniform piece.
And there is a sort of pathos—given the temperature that the ice and the hour imply—in the comparison of the washerwomen, elbow-deep in damp laundry, to the buildings across the river (which glow with warmth, and with occupants).