Edvard Munch was born 12 December 1863 in Adalsbruk, Norway. His early life was plagued by chronic illness. As he was often shut in due to a poor constitution, he whiled his time away in drawing, art, and reading. This began his journey towards being a full time artist. Early on (age of 4), his mother and sister were struck down by tuberculosis. The trauma of being raised by his overbearing and overly pious father began his self-described descent into a nearly lifelong
melancholy and madness. He says, "My father was temperamentally nervous and obsessively religious—to the point of psychoneurosis. From him I inherited the seeds of madness. The angels of fear, sorrow, and death stood by my side since the day I was born." Over many years he veered between many styles Naturalist to Impressionist and beyond trying to define his way of looking at the world. In the end he settled into a far more stripped down school of symbolist painting that relied almost not at all on the true nature of things but on their emotional and psychological contexts. His final style often makes people representative of one particular psychological context rather than representing the swath of human emotion. Further, he employed very shallow paintings where often the scene appeared merely a stage backdrop to the characters rather than a true living space. He often even neglected the exterior space focussing entirely on the symbolism of the figures.
He finished his art education in Paris under the tutelage of Leon Bonnat. His art here was mostly informed by giants like Van Gogh, Seurat, and especially Gauguin. After his father's death (and his assumption of the family patriarchal head), he moved to Germany and disrupted the normal art scene with his new ideas and approaches to painting. His full disregard to traditional
forms caused quite an uproar leading to his exhibit being shut down after a week although he continued a private showing for many weeks.
His most famous painting, The Scream is shown here. His description of the work follows. It is a blunt and simple expression of fear and madness expressed through uncertain flowing brushstrokes in the land as well as bright and often unnatural colors.
Oil, tempera, and pastel on cardboard. 1893.
"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."
Following are three more paintings,
Oil on canvas. 1893.
He often crafted works with sexual overtones. He never became truly comfortable in his own body nor with the widespread bohemian artist lifestyle. Pieces such as this one and his Madonna in The Frieze of Life series indicate this discomfort and intrigue in the human sexual drive.
The Sick Child
This painting is an homage to his dead sister who he loved dearly. Her death continued to inspire sadness and suicidal thoughts into his late life.
Self-Portrait with Skeleton Arm
This portrait shows both his initial facility in figure drawing as well as his imfatuation with the morbid. He would always be cynical of the human condition.
I chose Edvard Munch mostly because he was able to forge through the styles of all the popular painters of the day and create something of his own (even if he was a little mad). Who isn't? I really appreciate the use of color to impart emotion, and I respect someone who can bottle up all that craziness and depression for so long and channel it into something great.
Sue Prideaux, Behind the Scream (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006)
Eggum, A., & Munch, E. (1984). Edvard Munch: paintings, sketches, and studies. New York: C.N. Potter.
José María Faerna, Munch, Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1995