“I want to show men breath, fell, love, and suffer. I want to bring home to the spectator the sacred element in these things, so that he takes his hat off just as he would in church.” ~ Edvard Munch
Early Childhood of Edvard Munch
Edvard Munch was a Norwegian painter and graphic artist, born at Løten in Hedmark on 12 December 1863. At that time, his father, Christian Munch, was lowly paid medical military officer. When visiting his colleague Dr. Munthe at Elverum he became acquainted with the young Laura Cathrine Bjølstad, employed by the family as a maid. The 44-year-old doctor and the tubercular 23-year-old married in 1861.
Munch’s parents came from very different backgrounds. Laura’s father had been a successful sea captain and a timber merchant. The Munch family was was made up of middle class, priests, scholars & artists. Both parents were devout Christians, which characterized Munch’s family home.
Edvard Munch was only a year old when the family moved to Kristiania, what is now called Oslo. Both his mother and his favorite sister died young of tuberculosis. His aunt came to help raise the children. Christian Munch was an attentive father who instructed his son in history and literature, and entertained him and his sisters and brothers with vivid ghost stories and tales of Edgar Allan Poe. He was also a qualified doctor. However, his altruism sabotaged his attempts to establish a private practice. This situation led to frequent moves and poverty in Edvard’s childhood. All these factors added to Munch’s dark perspective on life.
Edvard Munch Art Education
Munch was most interested in art as a teenager, but he followed his father’s wishes and in 1879 he enrolled in a technical college. There he studied engineering, excelling in physics, chemistry, and math. Frequent illnesses interrupted his studies, and he decided to become a painter. His goal, as he wrote in his diary: “in my art I attempt to explain life and its meaning to myself.” In 1881, Munch enrolled at the Royal School of Art and Design of Kristiania, which incidentally had been founded by his forefather Jacob Munch.
Much to the chagrin of his father who paid Edvard’s stipend, Edvard Munch’s art and thoughts were greatly influenced by the writer Hans Jaeger, who was the leader of the controversial group, called ‘Christiania’s Bohemia.’ Jaeger was a bohemian nihilist, an anti-establishment rebel and a believer of free love.
Edvard Munch’s Travels
1880 saw a marked revolution in Norwegian art. The Norwegian artists, who had previously been studying overseas, first in Germany and then in France, now returned to Norway and choose Naturalism as the only direction for young Norwegian art.
Munch first experimented with many styles, including Naturalism and Impressionism. Then Jaeger encouraged him to reflect and examine his own emotional and psychological state. This helped Munch to move beyond impressionism and started what he called in his diary ‘soul paintings’. His first such painting was ‘The Sick Child’ (1886), based on his sister’s death.
Over the next decade or so, Munch played around with brushstroke techniques and color palettes to find his own personal painting style and began to explore symbolism and eventually expressionism. In 1889, Munch had his first one-man show of almost all his works to date. The recognition for this show resulted in scholarship to study in Paris under French painter Léon Bonnat for two years.
While not to crazed about Bonnat’s drawing classes in Paris, Munch was very excited about modern European artists like Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh, and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec who used color to convey emotion. Learning from them and crafting his own, by 1892, Munch had formulated his characteristic, and original, Synthetist aesthetic, in which color is the symbol-laden element. A great example is his work Melancholy. Munch had since moved from Paris to Berlin, where he’d stayed for four years. In Berlin, Munch involved himself in an international circle of writers, artists and critics, including the Swedish dramatist and leading intellectual August Strindberg, whom he painted in 1892. At this stage he still sold little of his work.
In 1896, Munch moved back to Paris, focusing on graphic representations of his “Frieze of Life” themes. Here he worked on his woodcut and lithographic technique. Munch also produced multi-colored versions of “The Sick Child” which sold well, as well as several nudes and multiple versions of Kiss (1892). Parisian critics considered work “violent and brutal” however his work started to get serious attention and his financial situation improved considerably. In 1897, Munch bought himself a summer house, in the small town of Åsgårdstrand in Norway. He dubbed this home the “Happy House” and returned here almost every summer for the next 20 years. In that year, Munch returned to Christiana (Oslo), and he finally started to be accepted there.
In 1899, at the age of thirty-four, Munch began an intimate relationship with the wealthy, upper-class Tulla Larsen. After their travels to Italy together, Munch began another fertile period in his art. It was a period of landscapes and his final painting in the “The Frieze of Life” series, The Dance of Life (1899).
Tulla was keen to get married, which scared Munch and he flet to Berlin in 1900.
International Recognition of Munch’s Art
In 1902, Berlin critics were beginning to appreciate Munch’s work even though the public still found his work strange. Good press coverage brought him the influential patrons Albert Kollman and Max Linde. He described the turn of events in his diary, “After twenty years of struggle and misery forces of good finally come to my aid in Germany—and a bright door opens up for me.”
On the Verge of Madness
Tulla eventually marries another artist, which brings much grief to Edvard ~ a grief that permeates his art. End 1908, Munch’s anxiety had become acute, verging on madness. He entered the clinic of Dr. Daniel Jacobson, whose therapy lightens his mood and Munch started to create some of his cheeriest works. While some say that the “electrification” therapy killed his creative edge, others call the Portrait of Dr. Jacobson made at that time one of Munch’s best works.
Regardless, the Norwegian public acceptance of Munch’s art work is a further catalyst for his cheeriness as was the fact that museums began purchasing his paintings. Munch was even made a Knight of the Royal Order of St. Olav “for services in art”.
Munch’s Later Years
Munch spent most of his last two decades in solitude at his nearly self-sufficient estate in Ekely, at Skøyen, Oslo. Munch died at 80 in his country home in 1944.
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In an exploration of modern existential experience unparalleled in the history of art, Edvard Munch, the internationally renowned Norwegian painter, printmaker and draftsman, sought to translate personal trauma into universal terms and in the process to comprehend the fundamental components of human existence: birth, love and death. Inspired by personal experience, as well as by the literary and philosophical culture of his time, Munch radically reconceived the given world as the product of his imagination.
This book explores Munch’s unique artistic achievement in all its richness and diversity, surveying his career in its entire developmental range from 1880 to 1944. The comprehensive volume features a lavish selection of color plates, an introduction by Kynaston McShine, Chief Curator at Large at The Museum of Modern Art, and essays by Patricia Berman, Reinhold Heller, Elizabeth Prelinger, and Tina Yarborough, as well as in-depth documentation of Munch’s art and career. It will accompany the most extensive exhibition of Munch’s art in America in three decades.
Other article on Munch:
http://eartfair.com/blog/whats-new-with-edvard-munch/, or ‘What’s New with Edvard Munch?