Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Art of Edvard Munch

This is Edvard Munch.

This is the painting you all have seen and know him best for.

HOWEVER, there are so many more paintings by Munch that are creepy, intriguing, unsettling, beautiful, sad, and downright chilling.  Munch was born in December of 1863 in Norway.  His mother died of tuberculosis when he was only five years old.  Edvard was often sick and kept out of school for much of the winters, during which he developed his drawing skills to keep himself occupied.  His father was obsessively religious to the point of psychoneurosis and often sternly reprimanded his children saying their mother was watching them from heaven and grieving over their misbehavior.  Munch's persistent illness combined with his father's temper helped inspire many of his nightmarish and melancholy paintings.  He felt that death was constantly advancing on him.

Later in life, Munch left college to become a painter, much to the chagrin of his father.  He experimented with naturalism and impressionism but didn't feel a true connection with these art styles.  Munch began a period of reflection and self-examination and recorded his thoughts in his "soul's diary."  His most famous work The Scream, first painted in 1893, exists in four versions, two pastels and two paintings.  The Scream has been widely interpreted as representing the anxiety of modern man.  Here is Munch's description of how The Scream originated: "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."  So...that's creepy.

Inheritance (1897-1899)
Munch witnessed an event in Paris that led to the creation of this painting.  A mother in a hospital waiting room held her dying child on her lap as she cried.  The child had contracted syphilis and is depicted with an abnormal-sized head, gaunt limbs, and rashes.  The falling leaves on the mother's skirt represent death.  This picture provoked much backlash in Munch's day.  Sexuality and venereal diseases were seen as taboo subjects and many felt Munch had crossed the line with his depiction of a harsh reality in this painting.

Self Portrait in Hell (1903)
Munch's peculiar self-portrait depicts himself naked in the garden of his summer home.  This unnerving painting indicates how troubled Munch was and how he perceived his position as a man and an artist, figuratively in hell.  The large black mass to the left forms a threatening shadow believed to be either the grave or a giant black wing.  However, Munch has not painted himself succumbing to his demons.  He poses strongly, confidently, as though he is the dark ruler of his own private hell.

Death of Marat (1907)
Based off of the painting by Jacques-Louis David of the murdered French revolutionary leader, Jean-Paul Marat.  Munch's style is erratic, agitated, and heavy.  This was said to reflect his disturbed mental state at the time, as this was painted shortly before his mental breakdown and resulting therapeutic treatment.  Munch stated with this painting, he had an urge to "break the areas and lines."

Workers On Their Way Home (1913-1915)
"Under a cloudy, winter evening sky, a gaunt column of workers, an unstoppable human tide, flows ‘through the cold blue shadows’ of a sunless, treeless, Nordic street. The central figures challenge us with their dark, hollowed-out eyes, their upright posture and clenched fists conveying a sense of determination, solidarity and defiance. They sport beards, soft hats and blue jackets with brown trousers and dark vests. One has a distinctive white face—from dust or disease?"

Shown below are more works from Munch I find to be particularly unnerving and sad, though beautifully executed.

Golgotha (1900)

Jealousy (1895)

Agony (1895)

Throughout the course of his career and life, Munch suffered from crippling anxiety coupled with excessive drinking and brawling.  Munch entered therapy in 1908 and was treated with "electrification."  Interestingly, in the 1930s and 1940s, Nazis labeled Munch's art as "degenerate art" and removed 82 of his pieces from German museums.  Munch died at the age of 80 in his home near Oslo but not without having left his mark on the world in both pop culture and to us creepy aficionados who always like to dig a little deeper.


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1 comment:

  1. Awesome post, sis! I love how intensely confrontational some of Munch's work is. The workmen feel so intrusive and aggressive. *shiver*. I want to sit and listen to you talk about art all day.