This little German picture, recently acquired by the National Gallery of Art, may be the coldest landscape in Washington. Its air is cold. So is its technique. And its comfortless implications.

In "Northern Landscape, Spring," which Caspar David Friedrich painted circa 1825, nothing green survives. Hopelessly, at lower right, a few dead stalks of grass pierce the drifted snow.

Two wanderers have paused in the middle distance, cold gray water to the right of them, cold gray water to the left. What could they be doing there? Where are they going?

The word "Spring" in the title promises renewal, but Friedrich's oil doesn't. Its sky threatens. Its daylight is too weak to warm. This is nature at its harshest. Heedless and immense, it offers only coldness to the human beings it dwarfs.

-- Paul Richard

"Northern Landscape, Spring" is the first German romantic oil painting to enter the National Gallery's collection. It hangs in the West Building, Gallery 92. The National Gallery of Art is located on Consititution Avenue between Third and Seventh streets NW. It is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free. For information, call 202-737-4215 or visit www.nga.gov.