Known for his iconic painting, ‘The Scream’, Edvard Munch was a Norwegian painter who followed the expressionist movement. According to Edvard Munch.org, most of his works were referred to as the style of symbolism as most of his paintings showed the internal rather than external view of objects. Moreover, most of his paintings showed strong mental anguish. This was due to his upbringing and his early exposure to death at a young age. He was born in Norway in 1863 and in the city of Kristiania(Former name of Oslo). Munch’s mother died from tuberculosis when he was 5 years old, and his sister followed soon after with tuberculosis when he was 14 years old. In addition to this, Munch’s father suffered from mental illness, and this affected the way Munch was raised. Due to this, Munch had a lot of repressed emotions as he was growing up. As he got older, Munch did not receive any type of formal education in art. But he was taught art by a circle of writers and artists in Kristiania called Kristiania Bohemie. They taught him the idea of natural aesthetics in art, and he learned a lot from Christian Krohg, an older painter. In 1889, he left Kristiania and decided to take a trip to Paris where he met some post-impressionist painters that showed him a different way to create art.
He met post-impressionist painters like Paul Gaugin and Henri de-Toulouse Lautrec who taught him more about impressionism’s unique art strokes. But he was more interested in learning Gaugin’s use of the bounding line and the synthetist artists’ use of inner vision in their paintings. In addition to this, Munch’s friend, who was a Danish poet, introduced him to French Decadent Symbolist poetry which added an element of sexuality into his newfound philosophy of art. After receiving some education and exposure to different types of artworks, Munch eventually went on to create his own original style of artwork in 1892. He started using the flowing use of lines to express psychological meaning. His artwork mainly showed the central themes of love and death. According to MOMA, this can be seen in the darker colors, blocks of colors, and contrasting lines. Between 1893 to 1910, he created two painted versions and two pastel versions of ‘The Scream’ painting. According to MOMA, Munch got the idea for ‘ The Scream’ when he was out walking at sunset and ‘heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature’. According to Britannica, Munch made other paintings during that period too and eventually created 22 pieces of artwork that he exhibited in 1902 in Berlin under the title ‘Frieze Of Life’. Although the Frieze paintings drew deeply on personal experience, the themes are universal as it shows the human experience of life and death.
Entwined with nature, the paintings show a narrative in love’s awakening, blossoming, withering, and death. Its about the “human experience of the great elemental forces of nature”. The three paintings, ‘The Voice’(1893), ‘ The Kiss’(1892), and ‘ Madonna’(1894-95), shows the different stages of love where ‘ The Kiss’ depicts the beginning and ‘ Madonna’ marks the end. In addition to the different stages of love, Munch showed the suffering caused by love as seen in his paintings, ‘Melancholy’(c.1892-93) and ‘Jealousy’(1894-95). These paintings and ‘ Death In The Sick Room’(1893-95) show isolation, loneliness, and death. Based on his personal experiences, these paintings show parts of his life to others. According to Arthur Lubow from the Smithsonian magazine, ‘ Death In The Sick Room’ recalls the death of his sister, Sophie. Who died in 1887 at the age of 15. The Smithsonian Magazine states that “He adopted the bold graphic outlines of Van Gogh, Gaugin, and Toulouse-Lautrec. In it, he, and his sisters loom in the foreground, while his aunt and praying father attend to the dying girl, who is obscured by her chair.” In the painting, Munch shows his emotions with the bold outlines and the way he draws the viewer’s eye to the empty bed and non-effective medicines in the space between him and his dying sister, Sophie. Another two paintings that depict the theme of love, are based on Munch’s love affair with a woman. ‘Vampire’(1893-94) and ‘Ashes’(1894), was inspired by his affair with the wife of a distant cousin when he was 21. They would meet in the woods for their dalliance. Their relationship caused him happiness when they were together and utter torment when they broke up. According to Arthur Lubow, ‘Ashes’ shows a woman that looks like his ex-girlfriend, Millie Thaulow. Who “ confronts the viewer, her white dress unbuttoned to reveal a red slip, her hand raised to the side of her head while a distraught lover holds his head in his hands.”
Even though he gained success in his paintings, Munch still felt unhappy as his most well-liked paintings depicted his most recent and disastrous love affair with his Muse, Tulla Larsen and it was also the inspiration for his other more recent artwork in the Frieze collection. In 1898, Munch met Tulla Larsen. She was a wealthy heiress of Kristiania’s leading wine merchant. Tulla Larsen, who was unmarried and 29 at that time, expressed interest in Munch and pursued him. But Munch was not interested in her and tried to reject her advances. Larsen kept pursuing Munch until he succumbed to her advances and begrudgingly began an affair with her. He memorialized their relationship in the painting ‘The Dance Of Life’(1899-1900) where she appears as both a golden-haired benevolent being and a frowning woman in a black dress on opposite sides of the painting while a man with a vacant expression on his face and a woman in a red dress who looks like Millie, dance stiffly in the middle. After running away from Larsen and ending their impending marriage in 1902, he went to Berlin to do his Frieze exhibition. But in the summer, he went back to the cottage where Larsen gave him a wedding chest so that they could get married. There he drank heavily and began brawling in public. His drinking problem got so bad that in 1908, he collapsed in Copenhagen and suffered a nervous breakdown. With his friend’s suggestion, he checked himself into a private sanitarium.
In 1909, he left the sanitarium and started producing brighter and more positive paintings like the murals for the assembly hall at Oslo, university and grew famous. In order to gain some privacy and solitude, he purchased an 11-acre estate called Ekely in 1916. It lay just outside the city of Oslo. As time went on, he spent the remainder of his days creating art in peace and solitude. According to Edvard Munch. Org, Munch passed away in 1944. After he died, he donated all his works to the Norwegian Government. The website states that “ a total of 15,400 prints were donated,4,500 drawings and watercolor art was donated, and six sculptures which Edvard had created were all turned over to the Oslo Government.” Many of his works can be seen in the National Gallery of Oslo and continue to inspire modern-day artists while showing the ever-present themes of love and death.