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  • Roger Blikkberget

Edvard Munch

Updated: Feb 24, 2021

In 1863 Edvard Munch was born in a small place called Ådalsbruk, Norway.

100 years later I was born in Elverum, about 15 min away by car

The Norwegian expressionist painter, Edvard Munch lived a tumultuous life, which was represented in his paintings. As a child, he was often ill in the winter, and kept out of school. To pass the time, he spent his days drawing. He also had a troubled childhood, as his mother died of tuberculosis after the birth of his youngest sister, and his favorite sister died of the same illness nine years later. His father was also a bit of a religious fanatic, who would read Edvard and his sisters ghost stories and the stories of Edgar Allen Poe. The vivid ghastly tales, combined with his poor health, the young Munch was plagued by nightmares and paranoid visions of death, which he would later incorporate into his artwork.

Edvard Munch

Born: December 12, 1863; Ådalsbruk in Løten, Norway

Died: 1944; Oslo, Norway

Nationality: Norwegian

Art Movement: Symbolism, Expressionism

Influenced by: Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Georges Seurat, Caspar David Friedrich

Influenced on: Egon Schiele, Wassily Kandinsky, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Beckmann, Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, Erich Heckel, Hans Andersen Brendekilde,

Teachers: Leon Bonnat

Art Institution: Akademie der Bildenden Künste München (Munich Academy), Munich, Germany

In his teens, he moved from drawing and dabbling with watercolors to painting with oils, and he only spent one year in technical college before he left to follow his dream of being a painter. His early paintings brought much unfavorable criticism, and his father rebuked him for his artworks, but continued to give him a living allowance. Later, unhappy with Munch’s paintings, he destroyed one of his nudes, and refused to grant him any more money for his art supplies.

Munch live much of his life in a nihilistic, bohemian lifestyle, in which binge drinking and brawling were the favorite pastimes, to his father’s constant disapproval. After his father’s death, leaving the Munch family destitute, and Munch, feeling that everyone around him had died, was plagued by suicidal thoughts. His personal tragedies and psychological idiosyncrasies evolved into a symbolic art form that expressed more internal emotion and feeling than projected an image of outside reality. He often refused to sell his paintings, calling them his children, and so would create reproductions of them to sell.

His critical reception improved by the 1890’s, and the attendance to his exhibitions increased, although reviews remained bleak. In 1898, he began a relationship with Tulla Larsen, who wanted to get married. Munch, fearing marriage as much as sexual relationships, fled Tulla a year later. In a later reconciliation attempt, there was an argument in which a gun went off, injuring two of Munch’s fingers, and ruining Munch’s chance at marriage.

In 1908, Munch had an acute break with reality, seeing hallucinations and suffering feelings of persecution, as if he was on the brink of insanity. He began therapy, including a controlled diet and electrification, which stabilized his personality. Thus began his more financially and professionally successful phase in his life, where he received many commissions and was able to provide well for his family. He spent the last two decades of his life in relative isolation, painting at one of his many estates. Today his legacy, once smeared with rumors that he was a Nazi sympathizer, includes many robberies of his works, his prices at auction, and his face now being featured on the Norwegian currency.

The Scream(Skrik)

Edvard Munch
1893, Oslo Norway. 91 x 73.5 cm. Media: Oil, pastel, cardboard, tempera. European period. Location: National Gallery, Oslo, Norway

The Scream is the best known and most frequently reproduced of all Munch’s motifs. With its expressive colors, its flowing lines and striking overall effect, its appeal is universal.

Despite radical simplification, the landscape in the picture is recognizable as the Kristiania Fjord seen from Ekeberg, with a broad view over the fjord, the town and the hills beyond. In the background to the left, at the end of the path with the balustrade that cuts diagonally across the picture, we see two strolling figures, often regarded as two friends whom Munch mentions in notes relating to the picture. But the figure in the foreground is the first to capture the viewer’s attention. Its hands are held to its head and its mouth is wide open in a silent scream, which is amplified by the undulating movement running through the surrounding landscape. The figure is ambiguous and it is hard to say whether it is a man or a woman, young or old – or even if it is human at all.

As with many of Munch’s pictures, it is assumed that here as well his starting point was private feelings and experience. His diaries contain several remarks that seem to form a background to this depiction of existential angst, among them the following: “I was walking along the road with two friends – Then the sun went down – The sky suddenly turned to blood and I felt a great scream in nature –”.

The Scream was first exhibited at Munch’s solo exhibition in Berlin in 1893. It was a central element in “The Frieze of Life”, and has been the theme of probing analysis and many suggested interpretations. The painting also exists in a later version, which is in the possession of the Munch Museum. In addition Munch worked with the motif in drawings, pastels and prints.

Here are some of his paintings:

More information about his paintings you can find here.

The Sick Child (later)

Edvard Munch
1907, oil on canvas, 120 x 118.5 cm, European period.

The Sick Child (Norwegian: Det syke barn) is the title given to six paintings and a number of lithographs, dry points and etchings completed by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863–1944), between 1885 and 1926. All record a moment before the death of his older sister Johanne Sophie (1862–1877) from tuberculosis at 14. 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, Sophie is typically shown on her deathbed accompanied by a dark-haired, grieving woman assumed to be her aunt Karen; the studies often show her in a cropped head shot. In all the painted versions Sophie is sitting in a chair, obviously suffering from pain, propped by a large white pillow, looking towards an ominous curtain likely intended as a symbol of death. She is shown with a haunted expression, clutching hands with a grief-stricken older woman who seems to want to comfort her but whose head is bowed as if she cannot bear to look the younger girl in the eye.

Throughout his career, Munch often returned to and created several variants of his paintings. The Sick Child became for Munch—who nearly died from tuberculosis himself as a child—a means to record both his feelings of despair and guilt that he had been the one to survive and to confront his feelings of loss for his late sister. He became obsessive with the image, and during the decades that followed he created numerous versions in a variety of formats. The six painted works were executed over a period of more than 40 years, using a number of different models.

The series has been described as "a vivid study of the ravages of a degenerative disease". All of the paintings and many of the ancillary works are considered significant to Munch's oeuvre. An 1896 lithograph in black, yellow and red was sold in 2001 at Sotheby's for $250,000.

Each painting shows Sophie in profile, lying on her deathbed, and obviously having difficulty breathing, a symptom of advanced, severe tuberculosis. She is propped from her waist up by a large thick white pillow which partially hides a large circular mirror hung on the wall behind her. She is covered by a heavy dark blanket. She has red hair and is shown as frail and with a sickly pallor and vacant stare. She looks towards a dark and portentous full-length curtain to her left, which many art historians interpret as a symbol of death.

A dark-haired and older woman in a black dress sits by the child's bedside, holding her hand. The bond between the two is established through the joining of their hands, which are positioned at the exact center of each work. Their shared grip is typically rendered with such pathos and intensity that art historians believe that not only did the two figures share a deep emotional bond, but that they were most likely blood relations. In probability the woman is Sophie's aunt Karen. Some critics have observed that the older woman is more distressed than the child; in the words of critic Patricia Donahue, "It is almost as though the child, knowing that nothing more can be done, is comforting a person who has reached the end of her endurance". The woman's head is bowed in anguish to the extent that she seems unable to look directly at Sophie. Because of this, her face is obscured and the viewer can only see the top of her head. A bottle is placed on a dressing table or locker to the left. A glass can be seen to the right on a vaguely described table.

The Munch Museum is open all summer and shortly the NEW Munch Museum will open in fall 2020.


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