Fine Artists: Edvard Munch Norwegian Painter 1863-1944

We want more than a mere photograph of nature. We do not want to paint pretty pictures to be hung on drawing-room walls. We want to create, or at least lay the foundations of, an art that gives something to humanity. An art that arrests and engages. An art created of one's innermost heart." -Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch Painting "The Scream"The Norwegian painter and graphic artist Edvard Munch illustrated man's emotional life in love and death. His art was a major influence of the expressionist movement, where artists sought to give rise to emotional responses. Edvard Munch is best known for his composition, "The Scream", one of the pieces in a series titled The Frieze of Life, in which Munch explored the themes of life, love fear death and melancholy.

Munch's convulsed and tortuous art was formed by the misery and conflicts of his time, and, even more important, by his own unhappy life. Childhood tragedy, intense and dramatic love affairs, alcoholism, and ceaseless traveling are reflected in his works, particularly in paintings like "The Sick Child", "The Scream", and "Vampire". Edvard Munch's pictures show his social awareness and his tendency to express, as in Puberty, many of the basic fears and anxieties of mankind.

Edvard Munch grew up in Norway's capital, Oslo, then called Christiania. His father, Christian Munch was a military doctor earning a modest income. His wife, who was 20 years his junior, died of tuberculosis when Edvard was only five years old, and Edvard's older sister, Sophie, died of the disease at the age of 15. Edvard himself was often ill. One of Edvard's younger sisters was diagnosed with mental illness at an early age. Of the five siblings only one, Andreas, ever married, only to die a few months after the wedding. His childhood home was culturally stimulating, but in his art Edvard Munch turned again and again to the memory of illness, death and grief.

In 1879 Edvard Munch enrolled in a technical college to study engineering, where he excelled in physics, chemistry, and math. Edvard Munch learned scaled and perspective drawing, but frequent illnesses interrupted his studies. The following year, much to his father’s disappointment, Edvard Munch left the college determined to become a painter. His father viewed art as an “unholy trade.” In contrast to his father’s rabid pietism, Edvard Munch adopted an undogmatic stance toward art, writing in his diary his simple goal: “in my art I attempt to explain life and its meaning to myself.” During these early years in his career, Munch experimented with many styles, including Naturalism and Impressionism.

Edvard Munch painting "Sick Child"Some early works of Edvard Munch are reminiscent of Manet. Munch's paintings during the 1880s were dominated by his desire to use the artistic vocabulary of realism to create subjective content, or content open to interpretation of the viewer. In 1885 Munch went on a short study tour to Paris. That year he started on the work that was to be his breakthrough, "The Sick Child", in which he makes a radical break with the realistic approach. His Sick Child (1885–1886), which used a motif popular among Norwegian realist artists, created through color a mood of depression that served as a memorial to his dead sister. The Sick Child touches on the fragility of life. It draws upon Munch’s personal memories, including the trauma of his sister’s death, and visits to dying patients with his doctor father. He described the 1885 painting as ‘a breakthrough in my art’ and made several subsequent versions. Despite Edvard Munch being pleased with his artwork, the criticism was very negative on this painting.

Edvard Munch continued to employ a variety of brushstroke technique and color palettes throughout the 1880s and early 1890s as he struggled to define his style. His idiom continued to veer between naturalistic, as seen in "Portrait of Hans Jæger", and impressionistic, as in "Rue Lafayette". Edvard Munch's "Inger On the Shore" (shown below), which caused another storm of confusion and controversy, hints at the simplified forms, heavy outlines, sharp contrasts, and emotional content of his mature style to come. "Inger on the Shore" shows Munch's ability to portray a lyrical atmosphere, in keeping with the new romantic trend of that time. The picture is painted in Åsgårdstrand, a small coastal town near Horten. It is this region's characteristic coastline we find used as a meaningful "leitmotif" in so many of Munch's compositions. Edvard Munch began to carefully calculate his compositions to create tension and emotion. While stylistically influenced by the Post-Impressionists, what evolved was a subject matter which was symbolist in content, depicting a state of mind rather than an external reality.

Edvard Munch painting "Iner on the Shore" or "Summer Night"In 1889, Edvard Munch presented his first one-man show of nearly all his works to date. The recognition it received led to a two-year state scholarship to study in Paris under French painter Léon Bonnat. At that time a Post-Impressionist breakthrough was in progress along with different anti-naturalist experiments. This had a liberating effect on Munch. "The camera cannot compete with a brush and canvas," Edvard Munch wrote, "as long as it can't be used in heaven and hell." The first autumn, shortly after Munch arrived in France, he was informed that his father had died.

The loneliness and melancholy in the painting "Night" (1890) are often seen with this in mind. The dark interior with the lonely figure at the window is completely dominated by tones of blue, a painting of nuances which may be reminiscent of James McNeill Whistler's nocturnal color harmonies. Painted in 1893,

The Scream is Munch's most famous work and one of the most recognizable paintings in all art. It has been widely interpreted as representing the universal anxiety of modern man. Painted with broad bands of garish color and highly simplified forms, and employing a high viewpoint, the agonized figure is reduced to a garbed skull in the throes of an emotional crisis. With this painting, Munch met his stated goal of “the study of the soul, that is to say the study of my own self”.

Munch wrote of how the painting came to be:”I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature.” Edvard Munch later described the personal anguish behind the painting, “for several years I was almost mad…You know my picture, ‘’The Scream?’’ I was stretched to the limit—nature was screaming in my blood… After that I gave up hope ever of being able to love again.”
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Edvard Munch
Norwegian Painter "The Scream"