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For its lack of concern with creating the illusion of depth—which had been a traditional aspect of landscape painting—The Monk by the Sea was Friedrich's most radical composition.The broad expanses of sea and sky emphasize the meager figure of the monk, standing before the vastness of nature and the presence of God.
In a letter of February 1809, he described the image for the first time.
Rather, the emptiness of the foreground is overwhelming.
It is commonly argued that a viewer of this painting has difficulty relating himself to the picture's space.
The piece, titled "Different Feelings about a Seascape by Friedrich on which is a Capuchin Monk", was critical of the work, but Kleist substantially revised Brentano's text to produce an article sympathetic to Friedrich's painting.
Kleist's commentary has become a central element in discussion of the painting and of Friedrich; the two men are seen as at odds with the aesthetic of the more conventional German Romantics, in which Brentano was firmly entrenched.
On Friedrich's request The Monk by the Sea was hung above The Abbey in the Oakwood.