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Edvard Munch

Norway Born in: 1863 Famous artist
Movement: Expressionnism

Edvard Munch was a Norwegian painter and printmaker whose intense and evocative psychological themes built upon some of the main tenets of late 19th-century Symbolism and greatly influenced German Expressionism in the early 20th century. His painting The Scream, or The Cry, can be seen as a symbol of modern spiritual anguish.


Munch was born into a middle-class family plagued with ill health. His mother died when he was only 5 years old, and his eldest sister passed when he was 14, both of tuberculosis. Munch eventually captured these events in his first masterpiece, The Sick Child. His father and brother, unfortunately, died while Munch was still young, and his sister developed mental illness. “Illness, insanity, and death," as he said, “were the black angels that kept watch over my cradle and accompanied me all my life."


Munch showed a flair for drawing at an early age but received little formal training. The Kristiania Bohème, a circle of writers and artists in Kristiania (Oslo), was an important factor in Much's artistic development. Its members believed in free love and generally opposed bourgeois narrow-mindedness. An older painter of the group, Christian Krohg, gave Munch both instruction and encouragement.


Munch quickly outgrew the prevailing naturalist aesthetic in Kristiania, partly due to his adaptation of French Impressionism after a trip to Paris in 1889. He was also exposed to the work of Post-Impressionist painters Paul Gauguin and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. During this period, he adopted the Impressionists' open brushstrokes, but Gauguin's use of the bounding line was to prove more congenial to him, as was the Synthetist artists' ambition to go beyond the depiction of external nature and give form to an inner vision. His friend and Danish poet, Emanuel Goldstein, introduced him to French Decadent Symbolist poetry, which helped Munch formulate a new philosophy of art, imbued with a pantheistic conception of sexuality.


Munch's deeply original style crystallized around 1892. The flowing, sinuous use of line in his new paintings are akin to contemporary Art Nouveau. Although, Munch did not use lines as decoration but as a vehicle for profound psychological revelation. The outraged incomprehension of his work by Norwegian critics was echoed by their Berlin counterparts when Munch exhibited a large number of his paintings at the 1892 Union of Berlin Artists. His unconventional imagery and violently emotional paintings often portrayed daring representations of sexuality, creating bitter controversy. Critics were also offended by his innovative technique, which was seemingly unfinished. However, the scandal brought fame to his name throughout Germany; from there, his reputation only spread farther. Munch primarily lived in Berlin from 1892–95 and then in Paris from 1896–97. He continued to move around extensively until he settled in Norway in 1910.


At the heart of Munch's achievement is his series of paintings on love and death. Its original basis was formed by six pictures exhibited in 1893, but the series had grown to 22 works by the time it was first exhibited under the title Frieze of Life at the Berlin Secession in 1902. Munch constantly rearranged these paintings, and if one had to be sold, he would make another version of it. In many cases, there are several painted versions and prints based on the same image. Although the Frieze draws upon deep personal experience, its themes are universal: it is not about particular men or women but men and women in general. It is about the human experience and the great forces of nature. The implied narrative emerges of love's awakening, blossoming, and withering, followed by death and despair.


Love's awakening is shown in The Voice, where a girl stands among the trees during a summer night, seemingly summoned by an inner voice. Compositionally, the winding coastline is contrasted with the vertical trees, figures, and pillar-like reflections of the sun or moon. Love's blossoming is shown in The Kiss, where a man and woman are locked in a tender, passionate embrace. Their bodies merge into a single undulant form, their faces melt into one another, so much so that neither retains any individual features. 


Munch's Madonna depicts a powerful image of the surrender, or transcendence, of individuality. A naked woman closes her eyes as she throws her head back in ecstasy. There appears to be a red halo above her flowing black hair. There are many interpretations, including the moments preceding conception or death. In Munch's art, women are an “other" with whom union is desperately desired, yet feared because it threatens the destruction of the creative ego.


Munch also explores themes of love induced suffering, as seen in Melancholy, Jealousy, and Ashes. Isolation and loneliness are reoccurring themes in Munch's work; they are especially emphasized in Death In The Sick Room, one of his many paintings about death. Here, the focus is on the individuals grappling with grief as opposed to the sick subject. The image's emotional power is also driven by the claustrophobic spacing depicted by Munch's steep perspective and enclosed spacing. 


This dramatic perspective is also present in The Scream, Munch's most famous work. It was inspired by a hallucination where Munch felt he had heard a “scream throughout nature". The piece depicts a panic-stricken creature, both corpselike and reminiscent of a sperm or fetus. Its contours are echoed in the swirling lines of the blood-red sky. In this painting, anxiety is raised to a cosmic level, ultimately related to the ruminations of death and the void of meaning that was central to Existentialism. 


Munch's art also had ties with the poetry and drama of his day. There are several interesting comparisons alongside the works of Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg, both of whose portraits Munch painted.


Munch's massive output of graphic art—consisting of etchings, drypoints, lithographs, and woodcuts—began in 1894. His main attraction to printmaking was that it enabled him to communicate his message to a much larger audience, and it was an opportunity for experimentation. Munch's lack of formal training in any graphic medium was no doubt a factor in pushing him toward extremely innovative techniques. Like many of his contemporaries, Munch was influenced by the Japanese tradition in his use of the woodcut, but he radically simplified the process. For example, he printed from a single block of wood then sawed it into multiple small pieces. Munch used the wood's grain for expressive purposes, which proved to be a highly successful experiment as it greatly influenced later artists. He frequently combined different media or overlaid one medium on top of another. Munch's prints closely resemble his paintings in both style and subject matter.


From 1908-09, Munch suffered through a nervous breakdown. Afterward, his art became more positive and extroverted without recovering its previous intensity. Among the few exceptions, his haunting Self-Portrait: The Night Wanderer, is one of a long series of self-portraits he painted throughout his life. An especially important commission, which marked the belated acceptance of Munch's importance in Norway, was for the Oslo University Murals (1909–16). The centerpiece was a painting of the sun, flanked by allegorical images. In his 1890s artworks, Munch created mysterious and dangerous psychic forces that contributed to his crucial role in modern art. In 1937, his work was included in the Nazi exhibition of “degenerate art." Upon his death, Munch left his estate and all the paintings, prints, and drawings in his possession to the city of Oslo. Thus, the Munch Museum was established in 1963. Many of his finest works remain in the National Gallery in Oslo.

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Edvard Munch, La Madone / Madonna - 1895, Print

Edvard Munch

La Madone / Madonna - 1895, 2017
29.9 x 22.4 inch
Print

$ 1,219

Edvard Munch, La Madone / Madonna - 1895, Print

Edvard Munch

La Madone / Madonna - 1895, 2017
29.9 x 22.4 inch
Print

$ 1,477

Edvard Munch, Angst / Anxiety / Anxiété 1896, Print

Edvard Munch

Angst / Anxiety / Anxiété 1896, 2019
24.2 x 17.7 inch
Print

$ 696

Edvard Munch, Lovers, 1890, Print

Edvard Munch

Lovers, 1890, 2018
25.6 x 20.1 inch
Print

$ 677

Our recommendations Edvard Munch, Le Cri / The Scream / Geschrei - 1895, Print

Edvard Munch

Le Cri / The Scream / Geschrei - 1895, 2017
25.6 x 19.3 inch
Print

$ 923

Our recommendations Edvard Munch, Le Cri / The Scream / Geschrei - 1895, Print

Edvard Munch

Le Cri / The Scream / Geschrei - 1895, 2017
25.6 x 19.3 inch
Print

$ 726

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