The Norwegian Painter - Edvard Munch

The Norwegian Painter - Edvard Munch

Today, Nordique is profiling one of Scandinavia's most famous artists. Born in Løten, Norway (around 150 kms north of Oslo), Edvard Munch was a Modernist pioneer, who created some of the most iconic paintings of the 19th and 20th centuries.  

After training at the Royal School of Art and Design in Kristiania (now Oslo), Munch first exhibited in 1883 at the Industry and Art Exhibition in Kristiania. After initial recognition and success, he spent almost 20 years living in Paris and Berlin in the late 19th century - cosmopolitan and creative hubs of the age. At this time, Munch's paintings increasing focused on emotions of anxiety, loneliness and existential dread - perhaps none more so than his most famous work of all - The Scream. 


Edvard Munch

"Nature is not only all that is visible to the eye... it also includes the inner pictures of the soul."

The Scream is actually a composition of four paintings created by Munch between 1893 and 1910. Two versions are held in the National Gallery in Oslo, with a third being located at the Munch Museum in Oslo. The fourth - a pastel version from 1895 - is held in a private collection after being sold in 2012 for US$ 120 million.  


Munch described his inspiration for The Scream as follows: 

"One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The colour shrieked. This became The Scream."

The Scream has been the target for several high profile art thefts. Most notably, one of the versions held by the National Gallery in Oslo was stolen in 1994, and then the version in the Munch Museum was stolen in 2004, only being recovered two months later. 


Anxiety -  Has the same view of the Oslo Fjord, as already seen in The Scream. The Scream deals with the horror experienced in total isolation by a single being, The Anxiety painting plays upon collective despair. the sentiment of angst in this work is even more sustained, if less piercing, than in The Scream. Here the desperation is borne by a group rather than by an isolated individual. 


Self Portrait with Cigarette - Lacking an identifiable environment, the self-portrait represents Munch as a man directly engaging with his viewer yet distanced from the world. The artist's face and hands are conspicuously emphasised and seem almost luminous against the dark, unarticulated background. For an artist, these parts of the body are especially significant. At the centre of the composition, one hand is raised to chest height, as if held to the heart. Although the artist seems to be gazing intensely at the viewer, he is looking no less into himself and his world. 


Madonna - Originally called Loving Woman, this picture can be taken to symbolise what Munch considered the essential acts of the female life cycle: sexual intercourse, causing fertilisation, procreation and death. Like many other modern artists, during his entire career, Munch liked to insistently re-work each idea. And Munch left at least five versions of the Madonna. Even with different themes and variations, Munch's work always represent a fixation on a subject matter, and over time they become an elements in a series with a life of its own.


The Sick Child -  This paining records a moment before the death of Munch's older sister Sophie, who got ill with tuberculosis at the age of 15. Munch returned to this deeply traumatic event again and again in his art, over six completed oil paintings and many studies in various media, over a period of more than 40 years. In the works, she is typically shown on her deathbed accompanied by a dark-haired, grieving woman assumed to be her aunt. 


The Kiss - Munch created many works in a thematic vein, including The Kiss, and exhibited them along side each other in what he called The Freize of Life. The themes in the series ranged from love and death, sex, anxiety, infidelity, jealousy and the stages of life, and included the famous painting The Scream. This painting captures an intimate moment, the woman pulling the man towards her in a lover's embrace, mouths locked in a passionate kiss. This is an example of Munch's theme of the femme fatal as the dominant creature. 


Separation - Here Munch illustrates the man's sorrow at parting from his love - the end of the story than began in The Kiss. As in other cases, the picture consists of two components, the objective in the foreground, in which the protagonist may be either frontal and active, as here, or in profile and contemplative, and the subjective in the background, the image of the past in his or her mind's eye. The love-lorn man appears about to move forward, into the future, but his path is blocked by the girl's long hair floats across into his world and caresses his head, tying him to his vision, allowing him no escape from his memory. 


Girls on the Bridge - Perhaps more than any of Munch's painting, Girls on the Bridge has gained a wide measure of popularity. The theme engaged and held Munch's interest through many versions in paint and print, from the waning years of the nineteenth century to his old age. Despite its poetic strain, Girls on the Bridge is a literal translation of a scene at Aasgaardstrand. Now, a century after its original conception, the visitor to this spot at Oslo Fjord will find an essentially unchanged scenery. 


Following a short illness Edvard Munch died on the 23rd of January 1944, at home in his villa Ekely on the outskirts of Oslo. Four years had passed since he bequeathed all his works of art to the City of Oslo. The magnificent donation to the City consisted of approx. 1 150 paintings, close to 18 000 prints depicting more than 700 different motifs, 7 700 drawings and watercolours as well as 13 sculptures. In addition there were nearly 500 printing plates, 2 240 books, notebooks, documents, photographs, art tools, accessories and pieces of furniture. 

Today the Munch Museum in Oslo houses more than half of Edvard Munch's paintings - and it is a fantastic place to explore when visiting the captial. 

The Munch Museum
Tøyengata 53
0578 Oslo

A Grandiose Scandinavian Home

A Grandiose Scandinavian Home

Landscape photographer Knut

Landscape photographer Knut