Born on December 12th, 1863, Løten, Norway, Munch grew up in Christiania (now Oslo). He was related to painter Jacob Munch (1776 – 1839) and historian Peter Andreas Munch (1810 – 1863). After the death of his mother, Laura Cathrine Bjølstad, of tuberculosis in 1868, Munch was raised by his father, Christian Munch, until 1889 when his father died. Christian Munch instilled in his children a deep-rooted fear of hell by repeatedly telling them that if they sinned, in any way, they would be doomed to hell without chance of pardon. While Munch was still young, his mother, a brother and Munch’s favourite sister Sophie (in 1877) died. A younger sister was diagnosed with mental illness at an early age. Munch was also often ill. Of the five siblings only Andreas married, only to die a few months after the wedding. This may explain the bleakness and pessimism of much of Munch’s work. He would later say, “Sickness, insanity and death were the angels that surrounded my cradle and they have followed me throughout my life.” A number of modern sources have described Munch’s illness as probably being bipolar disorder.
In 1879, Munch enrolled in a technical college to study engineering, but frequent illnesses interrupted his studies. In 1880, he left the college to become a painter. In 1881, he enrolled at the Royal School of Art and Design of Kristiania. His teachers were sculptor Julius Middelthun and naturalistic painter Christian Krohg.
Munch traveled to Paris in 1885, and his work began to show the influence of French painters – first of the impressionists, and then of the postimpressionists and of art nouveau design. While stylistically influenced by the postimpressionists, Munch’s subject matter is symbolist in content, depicting a state of mind rather than an external reality.
Munch maintained that the impressionism idiom did not suit his art. Interested in portraying not a random slice of reality, but situations brimming with emotional content and expressive energy, Munch carefully calculated his compositions to create a tense atmosphere.
During his career, Munch changed his idiom many times. In the 1880s, Munch’s idiom was naturalistic, such as Portrait of Hans Jæger, and partly impressionistic (Rue Lafayette). In 1892, Munch formulated his characteristic, and original, Synthetist idiom as seen in Melancholy in which colour is the symbol-laden element (The Scream).
Death in the Sickroom. c. 1895. Edvard Munch. Oil on canvas. 59 x 66 in. Nasjonalgalleriet at Oslo.During the 1890s, Munch favoured a shallow pictorial space, and used it in his frequently frontal figures. Since he chose the poses to produce the most convincing images of states of mind and psychological conditions (Ashes), the figures lend to the paintings’ a monumental, static quality. Munch’s figures appear to play roles on a theatre stage (Death in the Sick-Room), even perhaps a pantomime of fixed postures signifying the emotions. Because he gave his characters only one psychological dimension, as in The Scream, Munch’s men and women do not seem realistic.
In 1892, the Union of Berlin Artists invited Munch to exhibit at its November exhibition. His paintings invoked bitter controversy at the show, and after one week the exhibition closed. In Berlin, Munch involved himself in an international circle of writers, artists and critics, including the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (Munch designed the sets for several Ibsen’s plays), and the Swedish dramatist August Strindberg.
Between 1892 and 1908, Munch divided his time between Paris and Berlin, where he became known for his etchings, his lithographs, and his woodcuts. While in Berlin at the turn of the century, Munch experimented with a variety of new media (photography, lithography, and woodcuts), in many instances re-working his older imagery.
In the autumn of 1908, Munch’s anxiety became acute and he entered the clinic of Dr. Daniel Jacobsen. The therapy Munch received in hospital changed his personality, and after returning to Norway in 1909, he showed more interest in nature subjects, and his work became more colourful and less pessimistic.
In the 1930s and 1940s, German Nazis labeled his work “degenerate art”, and removed his work from German museums. This deeply hurt the antifascist Munch, who had come to feel Germany was his second homeland.
Munch died in Ekely, near Oslo, on January 23, 1944, about a month after his 80th birthday. He left 1,000 paintings, 15,400 prints, 4,500 drawings and watercolors, and six sculptures to the city of Oslo, which built the Munch Museum at Tøyen in his honor. The museum houses the broadest collection of his works. His works are also represented in major museums and galleries in Norway and abroad.
Munch appears on the Norwegian 1,000 Kroner note along with pictures inspired by his artwork.
“From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity.”
Frieze of Life – A Poem about Life, Love and Death
The Dance of Life. 1899 – 1900. Edvard Munch. Oil on canvas, 49 1/2 x 75 in. NasjonalgallerietIn December 1893, Unter den Linden in Berlin held an exhibition of Munch’s work, showing, among other pieces, six paintings entitled Study for a Series: Love. This began a cycle he later called the Frieze of Life – A Poem about Life, Love and Death. Frieze of Life motifs are steeped in atmosphere such as The Storm, Moonlight and Starry Night. Other motifs illuminate the nocturnal side of love, such as Rose and Amelie and Vampire. In Death in the Sickroom (1893), he depicts his sister Sophie’s death to illustrate the morbid theme. The dramatic focus of the painting, in which he portrays the entire family, is the Munch figure. In 1894, he enlarged the spectrum of motifs by adding Anxiety, Ashes, Madonna and Women in Three Stages.
Around the turn of the century, Munch worked to finish the Frieze. He painted a number of pictures, several of them in larger format and to some extent featuring the Art Nouveau aesthetics of the time. He made a wooden frame with carved reliefs for the large painting Metabolism (1898), initially called Adam and Eve. This work reveals Munch’s preoccupation with the “fall of man” myth in Munch’s pessimistic philosophy of love. Motifs such as The Empty Cross and Golgota (both c. 1900) reflect a metaphysical orientation to the times, and also echo Munch’s pietistic upbringing. The entire Frieze showed for the first time at the secessionist exhibition in Berlin in 1902.
Edvard Munch on Film
Edvard Munch is a 1973 biographical film about the Norwegian Expressionist painter Edvard Munch, written and directed by Peter Watkins. It was originally created as a three-part miniseries co-produced by the Norwegian and Swedish state television networks NRK and SVT, and has subsequently been shown as a three-hour feature film. The film covers about thirty years of Munch’s life, focusing on the influences that shaped his art, particularly the prevalence of disease and death in his family and his youthful affair with a married woman.
Like Watkins’ other films, Edvard Munch uses a combination of dramatic and documentary techniques: scenes from Munch’s life are enacted by a large cast (mostly Norwegian and mostly nonprofessional actors), but there is also a voiceover narration by Watkins, and there are documentary-style segments in which the characters speak directly to an interviewer about their own lives or their opinions of Munch. Some of the dialogue was improvised by the cast, especially in the interview segments; to convey the hostile response Munch’s work often received during his lifetime, Watkins recruited Norwegians who genuinely disliked the paintings.
After its initial broadcast, the film was briefly an international success but then was not widely available for many years; Watkins has said that network officials tried to suppress its distribution, and tried to bar it from competition in the Cannes Film Festival, because they disapproved of its use of nonprofessional actors and anachronistic dialogue. After NRK relinquished rights to the film in 2002, it gained a wider international release.
The Munch Museum (Norwegian: Munchmuseet) is a museum in Oslo, Norway, dedicated to the work and life of the painter Edvard Munch.
The museum was financed from the profits generated by the Oslo municipal cinemas and opened its doors in 1963 to commemorate what would have been the painter’s 100th birthday. Its collection consists of works and articles willed by Munch to the municipality of Oslo, additional works donated by his sister Inger Munch, and various other works obtained through trades of duplicate prints, etc. As a result, the museum now has in its permanent collection well over half of the artist’s entire production of paintings and at least one copy of all his prints. This amounts to over 1,100 paintings, 15,500 prints covering 700 motives, six sculptures, as well as 500 plates, 2,240 books, and various other items.
In addition to its collection of works of art, the museum also contains educational and conservation sections. It has facilities for performing arts.
The museum structure was designed by the architects Gunnar Fougner and Einar Myklebust. Myklebust also played an important role in the expansion and renovation of the museum in 1994 for the 50th anniversary of Munch’s death.
· After the Cultural Revolution in China ended, Munch was the first Western artist to have his pictures exhibited at the National Gallery in Beijing.
· Some art historians believe that the red sky in the background of The Scream reflects the unusually intense sunsets seen throughout the world, following the 1883 eruption of the Indonesian volcano Krakatoa.
Reinhold Heller, Munch. His life and work (London: Murray, 1984).
Gustav Schiefler, Verzeichnis des graphischen Werks Edvard Munchs bis 1906 (Berlin: Bruno Cassirer, 1907).
Gustav Schiefler, Edvard Munch. Das graphische Werk 1906 – 1926 (Berlin: Euphorion, 1928).