Edvard Munch

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Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch
Edvard Munch, (born December 12, 1863, Löten, Norway—died January 23, 1944, Ekely, near Oslo), Norwegian painter and printmaker whose intensely evocative treatment of psychological themes built upon some of the main tenets of late 19th-century Symbolism and greatly influenced German Expressionism in the early 20th century. His painting The Scream, or The Cry (1893), can be seen as a symbol of modern spiritual anguish.

Early years
Munch was born into a middle-class family that was plagued with ill health. His mother died when he was five, his eldest sister when he was 14, both of tuberculosis; Munch eventually captured the latter event in his first masterpiece, The Sick Child (1885–86). Munch’s father and brother also died when he was still young, and another sister developed mental illness. “Illness, insanity, and death,” as he said, “were the black angels that kept watch over my cradle and accompanied me all my life.”

Munch showed a flair for drawing at an early age but received little formal training. An important factor in his artistic development was the Kristiania Bohème, a circle of writers and artists in Kristiania, as Oslo was then called. Its members believed in free love and generally opposed bourgeois narrow-mindedness. One of the older painters in the circle, Christian Krohg, gave Munch both instruction and encouragement.

Munch soon outgrew the prevailing naturalist aesthetic in Kristiania, partly as a result of his assimilation of French Impressionism after a trip to Paris in 1889 and his contact from about 1890 with the work of the Post-Impressionist painters Paul Gauguin and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. In some of his paintings from this period he adopted the Impressionists’ open brushstrokes, but Gauguin’s use of the bounding line was to prove more congenial to him, as was the Synthetist artists’ ambition to go beyond the depiction of external nature and give form to an inner vision. His friend the Danish poet Emanuel Goldstein introduced him to French Decadent Symbolist poetry during this period, which helped him formulate a new philosophy of art, imbued with a pantheistic conception of sexuality.

Edvard Munch

Artistic maturity
Munch’s own deeply original style crystallized about 1892. The flowing, tortuous use of line in his new paintings was similar to that of contemporary Art Nouveau, but Munch used line not as decoration but as a vehicle for profound psychological revelation. The outraged incomprehension of his work by Norwegian critics was echoed by their counterparts in Berlin when Munch exhibited a large number of his paintings there in 1892 at the invitation of the Union of Berlin Artists. The violent emotion and unconventional imagery of his paintings, especially their daringly frank representations of sexuality, created a bitter controversy. Critics were also offended by his innovative technique, which to most appeared unfinished. The scandal, however, helped make his name known throughout Germany, and from there his reputation spread farther. Munch lived mainly in Berlin in 1892–95 and then in Paris in 1896–97, and he continued to move around extensively until he settled in Norway in 1910.

Paintings of love and death
At the heart of Munch’s achievement is his series of paintings on love and death. Its original nucleus was formed by six pictures exhibited in 1893, and the series had grown to 22 works by the time it was first exhibited under the title Frieze of Life at the Berlin Secession in 1902. Munch constantly rearranged these paintings, and if one had to be sold, he would make another version of it. Thus in many cases there are several painted versions and prints based on the same image. Although the Frieze draws deeply on personal experience, its themes are universal: it is not about particular men or women but about man and woman in general, and about the human experience of the great elemental forces of nature. Seen in sequence, an implicit narrative emerges of love’s awakening, blossoming, and withering, followed by despair and death.

Love’s awakening is shown in The Voice (1893), where on a summer night a girl standing among trees seems to be summoned more by an inner voice than by any sounds from a boat on the sea behind her. Compositionally, this is one of several paintings in the Frieze in which the winding horizontal of the coastline is counterpoised with the verticals of trees, figures, or the pillarlike reflection across the sea of sun or moon. Love’s blossoming is shown in The Kiss (1892), in which a man and woman are locked in a tender and passionate embrace, their bodies merging into a single undulating form and their faces melting so completely into each other that neither retains any individual features. An especially powerful image of the surrender, or transcendence, of individuality is Madonna (1894–95), which shows a naked woman with her head thrown back in ecstasy, her eyes closed, and a red halo-like shape above her flowing black hair. This may be understood as the moment of conception, but there is more than a hint of death in the woman’s beautiful face. In Munch’s art, woman is an “other” with whom union is desperately desired, yet feared because it threatens the destruction of the creative ego.

In other works forming the Frieze, Munch explored the theme of suffering caused by love, as seen in such titles as Melancholy (c. 1892–93), Jealousy (1894–95), and Ashes (1894). If isolation and loneliness, always present in his work, are especially emphasized in these pictures, they are equally apparent in Death in the Sick Room (1893–95), one of his many paintings about death. Here the focus is not on the dying child, who is not even visible, but on the living, each wrapped in their own experience of grief and unable to communicate or offer each other any consolation. The picture’s power is heightened by the claustrophobically enclosed space and by the steeply rushing perspective of the floor.

“Scream, The” [Credit: National Gallery, Oslo, Norway/Bridgeman Art Library, London/SuperStock]The same type of dramatic perspective is used in The Scream, which is Munch’s most famous work. Inspired by a hallucinatory experience in which Munch felt and heard a “scream throughout nature,” it depicts a panic-stricken creature, simultaneously corpselike and reminiscent of a sperm or fetus, whose contours are echoed in the swirling lines of the blood-red sky. In this painting anxiety is raised to a cosmic level, ultimately related to the ruminations on death and the void of meaning that were to be central to Existentialism. (The two earliest versions of The Scream date to 1893; Munch created another version in 1895 and completed a fourth likely in 1910.) His art also had evident affinities with the poetry and drama of his day, and interesting comparisons can be made with the work of the dramatists Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg, both of whose portraits he painted.

Munch’s massive output of graphic art—consisting of etchings, drypoints, lithographs, and woodcuts—began in 1894. The principal attraction to him of printmaking was that it enabled him to communicate his message to a much larger number of people, but it also afforded him exciting opportunities for experimentation. His lack of formal training in any graphic medium was no doubt a factor in pushing him toward extremely innovative techniques. Like many of his contemporaries, he was influenced by the Japanese tradition in his use of the woodcut, but he radically simplified the process by, for example, printing from a single block of wood sawed into a number of small pieces. Munch’s use of the actual grain of the wood for expressive purposes proved an especially successful experiment, and it greatly influenced later artists. He also frequently combined different media or overlaid one medium on top of another. Munch’s prints closely resemble his paintings in both style and subject matter.

Edvard Munch

Later years
Munch suffered a nervous breakdown in 1908–09, and afterward his art became more positive and extroverted without recovering its previous intensity. Among the few exceptions is his haunting Self-Portrait: The Night Wanderer (c. 1930), one of a long series of self-portraits he painted throughout his life. An especially important commission, which marked the belated acceptance of his importance in Norway, was for the Oslo University Murals (1909–16), the centrepiece of which was a vast painting of the sun, flanked by allegorical images. Both landscapes and men at work provided subjects for Munch’s later paintings. Yet it was principally through his work of the 1890s, in which he gave form to mysterious and dangerous psychic forces, that he made such a crucial contribution to modern art. In 1937 his work was included in the Nazi exhibition of “degenerate art.” Upon his death, Munch bequeathed his estate and all the paintings, prints, and drawings in his possession to the city of Oslo, which erected the Munch Museum in 1963. Many of his finest works are in the National Gallery in Oslo.

Munch was a leader in the revolt against the naturalistic dictates of 19th-century academic painting and also went beyond the naturalism still inherent in Impressionism. His concentration on emotional essentials sometimes led to radical simplifications of form and an expressive, rather than descriptive, use of colour. All these tendencies were taken up by a number of younger artists, notably the leading proponents of German Expressionism. Perhaps his most direct formal influence on subsequent art can be seen in the area of the woodcut. His most profound legacy to modern art, however, lay particularly in his sense of art’s purpose to address universal aspects of human experience. Munch was heir to the traditional mysticism and anxiety of northern European painting, which he re-created in a highly personal art of the archetypal and symbolic. His work continues to speak to the typically modern situation of the individual facing the uncertainty of a rapidly changing contemporary world.

Gray F. Watson

Encyclopædia Britannica

Edvard Munch

(Jean Selz)
The proto-Expressionists

The practice of referring to the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (born at Loeten on December 12, 1863; died at Ekely, near Oslo, on January 23, 1944) as either a precursor or one of the most typical representatives of Expressionism has encouraged the continued existence of several misunderstandings. In countries like France and England, whose knowledge of the movement was belated and superficial, one such misunderstanding surrounds the movement defined by this name in Germany. In the latter country it is a movement based in part on national sociological viewpoints, with a Nordic extension; in the former, in contrast, only its aesthetic aspect has been retained. Another misunderstanding has sprung up around the subject of Munch himself: although his Expressionist paintings are his best-known works, a major portion of his work lies completely outside this classification.

This book is an attempt to shed some light on the confusion that still surrounds these questions.
As in the case of Impressionism (exclusive of its revolutionary technique, however), it is possible to see in Expressionism, on the one hand, an aesthetic characteristic that is not restricted to any one period, and on the other, a movement consisting of a small number of artists and existing within a clearly delimited period. Awareness of Expressionism has been complicated and made uncertain by the fact that this aesthetic characteristic, which (from our point of view) can be found in a certain number of painters, is not the only one on which the artists in the German movement based their work.
So true is this that the European Expressionist Exhibition, organized by and first shown at the Munich Haus der Kunst, and subsequently shown in 1970 at the Musee National d'Art Moderne in Paris (like the 1974 Edvard Munch Exhibition, which also traveled from Munich to Paris), inevitably startled its French visitors, who were disconcerted to see paintings that in no way corresponded to their idea of Expressionism: abstract pictures by Kandinsky, for example, and works by Klee, Macke, Gauguin (as a precursor of Expressionism), Mondrian, and Pascin.
It is easier, according to our conception, to define the attitude and the aesthetic system of the Expressionist painter than to explain why so many artists, novelists, poets, and dramatists have been included under this single heading. It would be helpful, then, to more closely define the nature of this painting, so that we may understand to what extent Edvard Munch is a part of it.
In its most obvious style of representation, Expressionist painting is lyric and dramatic. It tends to stretch human emotions, and in particular the emotions of sorrow and anxiety, to a point of pronounced tension. It is a style of painting that captures the sadness, unhappiness, and fear that imprison humanity, and thus it is first and foremost a drama in which attention is concentrated on the message communicated to us by the characters. Pure landscapes may also be called «Expressionist,» but only when the character conferred upon them is able to endow them with an expression suggesting or revealing a human emotion.
Let us immediately consider an example of Munch's work that is typically representative of Expressionism: the painting entitled The Scream, the very title of which seems to summarize all the definitions applicable to this style of painting. By analogy with the expression of thought, we could say that the Expressionist style cannot be satisfied with speech, still less with a murmur; it requires that action by which the human being liberates himself from an emotional impulse that originates in a source more instinctive and less easily analyzed than thought, and which stands outside the logic of spoken language: shouting. In Munch's painting, the cry dominates the composition and imposes itself directly upon our vision by the almost central position in the foreground occupied by the open mouth of the figure holding its head in its hands. The person uttering it is walking along a road that disappears into the distance, and his back is turned to a landscape in which an expanse of dark blue water contrasts with the red bands streaking across a yellow sky. The cry uttered by this person in the grip of an unknown terror would not produce such a powerful impression upon us were it not for the way in which the painter has been able to suggest, by using the technique applied in depicting the landscape, the inner agitations that impart to this cry its powerful motivation. The entire landscape beyond the railing appears in a movement of sinuous lines in which the trails of paint, with their soft and indecisive shapes, are as it were an image of the uncertainty, instability, and wavering movement of thought, in which the torment of anxious man originates and grows with an encroaching, confining power. Munch relates the origin of this painting in a few lines written on the back of a lithograph of 1895 in which he repeated this theme.
«I was walking along the road with two friends. The sun set, and the sky turned blood red. I felt a touch of melancholy, and stopped and leaned against the railing, feeling extremely fatigued. Blood-red clouds and tongues of fire were floating above the city and the blue-black fjord. My friends kept on walking, but I stood still, trembling with anxiety. I felt as if I were hearing the immense, infinite cry of nature.»


The Scream


This separation from his two friends, whose silhouettes we see in the background, accentuates the feeling of solitude into which the anxious man has plunged, as if to plumb the depths of his distress.
The ethical significance and the aesthetic implications of both figure and landscape are thus combined into a single «Expressionist» impulse. Later we shall see that on occasion Munch seems to have felt that landscape alone sufficed him as a tool for projecting into his painting the movements of an inner agitation. He was not the first painter to feel this way. His earliest precursor along this path is undoubtedly the late sixteenth-century painter El Greco, whose View of Toledo (Metropolitan Museum, New York) is a powerfully unreal, highly dramatized landscape in which a terrible storm seems to be threatening the city. El Greco did not hesitate to modify the position of the cathedral in relation to the castle, as if to highlight them better and so single out these two symbols of power for divine punishment.
Closer to our own time, the Expressionist landscape had its influential depictor in Van Gogh, whose mortal torments during the last two years of his life (1889-1890) sucked whirling skies and convulsed trees into a veritable pictorial delirium, as in his paintings of The Olive Trees, Starry Night, and Cornfield with Crows. But there were few Expressionist landscape painters during the first decades of the twentieth century; the principal ones are Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, August Macke, Otto Dix, Chaim Soutine, and a solitary Frenchman (who, however, was of Flemish origin), Vlaminck, and not one of them showed an exclusive preference for the landscape. As for the still life, which predominated in the works of those painters of reflection, the Cubists, it is completely absent from Expressionist painting. Not a single still life by Munch exists.
The precursors of Expressionism in the depiction of the human figure go back to a more distant past. A search for hints of it in an excess of expression given to a face leads us to the work of Hieronymus Bosch, to his Ecce Homo (Philadelphia Museum) and particularly to his Carrying of the Cross in the Ghent Museum. However, in fifteenth-century German painting the figures in this scene were traditionally depicted in carica-tural form, and we find this done prior to Bosch, in the 1437 Carrying of the Cross in Hans Multscher's Wurzach altar (Berlin-Dahlem Museum). But that great lyrical, fundamentally Expressionist, movement that animates the Crucifixion in Matthias Griinewald's Isenheim altar (Colmar Museum) is missing from the Wurzach work. The Spanish school has its El Greco and its Goya, with their sometimes distorting emphasis placed on facial expression, but when all is said and done these are only isolated instances in the history of painting.
Thus, if we assign a place to Munch's work in relation to the Expressionist «movement,» which as we said is essentially a German movement, and when we recall that this movement did not begin until 1910, by which time Munch's Expressionist period was over, it is logical to regard the Norwegian painter —at least as regards those works that, like The Scream, were painted in the closing years of the nineteenth century — as a precursor of this form of expression, to which he contributed a major impetus.

A melancholy adolescence

The Munch family was a typical representative of the most responsible class of society in nineteenth-century Norway: its members were clergymen, army officers, teachers, doctors. It also included a painter (who was, however, a former officer of the Engineers' Corps), Jacob Munch, who, after taking lessons with David, became a traditional portraitist; and a dramatist, Andreas Munch. Christian Munch, Edvard's father, was a doctor in the Army Medical Corps.
At Christiania (the old Oslo), where his parents settled in 1864, Edvard's childhood was formed by his father's recitals of tales from the old sagas. Their mystery-laden adventures found their way into the book Legends of the Gods and Heroes of the North, by P. A. Munch, the professor-historian uncle whose works, read aloud during the long evenings of the Nordic winter, were a subject of family admiration.
Dr. Munch carefully supervised the education of his five children, Sophie, Edvard, Andreas, Laura, and Inger. But his financial difficulties, and the despondency caused by his wife's death from tuberculosis in 1868, when Edvard was five, left the household under the cloud of a distressing atmosphere. In 1877 Edvard's beloved fifteen-year-old sister Sophie died of the same disease. Edvard later left a moving souvenir of her in his painting The Sick Child. Thus there took shape, around and within him, that universe of sadness of which he was one day to say that «Illness, madness, and death are the dark angels who watched over my cradle and have accompanied me throughout my life.»
Madness? Undoubtedly it was only the edge of madness, if we are to see in the painter's words an allusion to the dark crisis of religious obsession that took possession of his father upon his mother's death. The father spent entire days, sometimes far into the night, in prayer in his room, something that terrified Edvard. As so often happens, his own obsessions were to enter his painting with images that plunge into his past and bring it back to life. That of his father appeared in 1902, in the woodcut Old Man Praying.
Other calamities overtook the Munch family, but the deaths of his mother and his sister Sophie had already had the effect of indicating to the future painter a special area in which his desire to express the impressions made upon him by life could be fulfilled. Thus he notes in his diary for November 8, 1880, «I am now determined to become a painter.»
His father wanted him to become an engineer, and with this in mind had registered him in 1879 at the Technical Institute. But Edvard spent little more than a year there. In 1881 he enrolled in the State School of Art and Handicraft, where he worked with Julius Middelthun and in 1882 studied painting under the direction of Christian Krohg.
Several works dating from this period, drawn with a somewhat academic diligence and painted with a rather austere palette, are still extant. They include several interior scenes, a view of Christiania, and two portraits that already reveal his power to express the complete character of a face with great sobriety of means. One of them, Laura, Aged 14, reappears in the foreground of a landscape of 1888 entitled Evening Hour at Vrengen, while his Self-Portrait, painted before he was 20, reveals somewhat stern good looks, which women found extremely attractive, although his timidity and shyness, and even at this early age a feeling of distrust that he never completely succeeded in overcoming, kept him at a distance from them.
These early works are not yet an augury of the path of his true personality. At most we find in them an undertone of melancholy in which his work was to find its inspiration. It sets the mood for portraits like that of his sister Inger, which marks the end of his naturalistic period.

Sister Inger
National Gallery, Oslo

Sister Inger

Inger Munch

Los solitarios

Couple on the Shore (from the Reinhardt Frieze)

Rojo y blanco

La voz


Summer Night´s Dream (The Voice)

Women on the Beach

Encounted in Space

Noche en St. Cloud


Atardecer. Laura, la hermana del artista

Noche de verano


Madre e hija

Paris and Berlin

Munch left Norway for the first time in 1885 to spend three weeks in Paris, a trip he owed to the generosity of his father's friend, the painter Frits Thaulow, who was one of the first to notice the young artist's talent, and who himself settled in Paris in 1896.
During his brief stay in Paris, Munch discovered not only the Louvre but also all the painters whose recent demonstrations had posed a serious challenge to official art. In 1885 the Impressionists were on the eve of their eighth and last exhibition. As in the case of Van Gogh, for whom they provided a decisive stimulus the following year, their works caused Munch to reconsider the problem of color. A change appeared in his painting from the date of his return to Christiania. The fact is that he now began to be in full command of himself.
From this period of 1885-1886 dates his first masterpiece, The Sick Child, an evocation of his feeling for his sister Sophie. He produced five versions of this subject; one is in the Nasjonalgalleriet in Oslo, another in the Tate Gallery in London, while the face alone, seen in profile against the pillow, was to reappear some ten years later in a drawing, an etching, and a lithograph. Munch's feelings had never before been expressed with such delicacy in the manner of applying his strokes of color to the canvas. There is nothing Expressionist about this painting; on the contrary, the muted poetic resonance of the vision of the young girl originates in a certain lack of precision in the drawing and a chaste abstention from any expression of feeling. The painter owes to Impressionism this freedom of treatment and subjective independence of color in relation to the form. «My work on The Sick Child» , he wrote in connection with this picture, «cleared new paths for me, and opened a total breakthrough for my art. Most of my later works owe their origin to this painting.»

The Sick Child

The same freedom is seen in two other paintings dating from 1885, A Dance (private collection, Oslo) and Tete-d-Tete. In the latter painting a woman's face is visible through the veil of smoke rising from a pipe — a homey image whose delicacy is not always as wonderfully well expressed in the painter's work. It is strange to find that in this style, a direct outgrowth of Impressionism, Munch has made use of a palette of colors much darker than that of any Impressionist.



In the succeeding years, however, he turned away from this kind of dreamy vagueness that gives his paintings their profound charm. In 1889, the year of his first one-man exhibition of 110 works in Christiania, he painted a series of pictures in which he attempted to establish an intimate relationship between a figure and its surrounding decor, whether a domestic interior or a landscape. The natural austerity of Munch's temperament is evident in the solemnity of the faces, but it has not yet become dramatic in nature. Silence, solitude, expectancy, and reverie are, as it were, caressed by the grace of a detail, a delicate lighting, a muted atmosphere.
In Spring, one of the most representative paintings in this series, two women in dark clothes are seated in front of a window through which white voile curtains, puffed out by a slight breeze, are filtering the daylight. All the freshness of the northern spring is contained in this pale clarity that envelops the flowers placed on the window ledge. The two women, however, are still dressed in winter clothes. The distance that separates them from the window, the left side of the painting fram the right, and shadow from light, contains the essential significance of the scene: the patient expectancy of two spectators before what is as yet only a promise of the arrival of summer.

National Gallery, Oslo

In An Evening Chat (Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen) the landscape seems to be guarding the couple's tryst, while in Inger on the Shore (Rasmus Meyer Collection, Bergen) it seems to give full measure to the young girl's solitude. These landscapes are not backgrounds installed behind portraits; rather, they are an extension into space of the spirit that constitutes the very nature of a meeting (a tryst) or a solitary reverie. Throughout his life Munch was concerned with imparting the echo of a cosmic meditation to his painting.
In this same year of 1889 Munch returned to France on a government scholarship. He remained there until 1892, living first in Paris, then in Saint-Cloud, and later visiting the Riviera. His desire to do serious work led him to choose as his teacher Leon Bonnat, the most serious — and most boring — of the official painters. Undoubtedly Munch was not impressed by his teacher's instruction, since'he spent only four months in his studio. His discovery of various artistic movements that were very active in this year of the Universal Exhibition was of greater use to him. He was able to view the fourteen canvases by Manet appearing in the Centennial of French Art, the Gauguin works exhibited at the Cafe Volpini, paintings by Monet at the Georges Petit Gallery, the neo-Impressionist canvases of Seurat and his friends, and the debut of the Nabis, with Serusier, Maurice Denis, Bonnard, Vuillard, Ranson, and others.
The very diverse tendencies represented by all these painters were to exert a more or less direct, but nevertheless temporary, influence on Munch. The most obvious influence is that of neo-Impressionism, which contributed its small, close strokes to several works he painted in 1891, although he did not rigorously apply the pointillist method. It is particularly evident in Rue de Rivoli page, Rue Lafayette, and Spring Day on Karl Johan Street (Bergen Billedgalleri).
These, however, are merely superficial technical experiments. For Munch the matter of supreme importance, ranking even before the solution of the conflicting problems raised by the various styles of painting, was the subject of the painting: the what of painting will determine the how of painting. At Saint-Cloud, in 1889, he wrote in his diary with a kind of mystical fervor:
«We shall paint no more interiors with men reading or women knitting. They must be living beings who breathe, feel, suffer, and love. I shall paint a series of such paintings, and people will realize their religious nature and remove their hats before them, just as they do in church.», her point-blank before turning it upon himself. Duchna's end, like everything concerning the relationship between love and death, had profound and enduring repercussions on Munch's thought and work.

Rue Lafayette

Spring Day on Karl Johann

The theme of womanhood

It is obvious that this Berlin period, whose way of life Munch sought, upon his return to Norway, to find to some extent in the artistic circle known in Christiania as «Bohemia,» exerted a decisive influence on the painter's accession to his true personality. The paintings of 1893 are proof of this. First came The Scream, which we have already discussed and in which Munch completely departed from all his earlier styles of painting. Now liberated from any academic precision of draftsmanship, he was interested only in the movement of color as a means of emphasizing the dramatic character of the subject. Here he discovered a style that he was to repeat in Madonna.
She is, to tell the truth, a strange madonna: a female nude whose mournful face is thrown back, and whose hair falls over her shoulders, while an orange circle forms a kind of halo around her head. Munch's ideological ambiguity concerning woman is openly expressed in this painting. Sometimes a virgin, at other times the incarnation of sin, in Madonna she appears as a synthesis of the painter's mystical and erotic urges. As early as 1893, in a drawing that he titled Madonna, a woman's face had appeared in profile in the center of a circular area reminiscent of a nimbus. Despite the sensuality of the line, the nudity was chaste. In one of five later versions of this subject, however, drawn on stone in 1895 and metamorphosed into a color lithograph in 1902, he makes the meaning of the picture crudely clear. This time the same female torso with its shining flesh is framed by tears of sperm, while a fetus is placed in one corner of the composition. Its subtitle is Ideal Representation of the Moment of Conception.




Study for Madonna

It is significant that in this same year of 1894 Munch painted two pictures in which the theme of womanhood is treated in two different aspects that for him are like the twin poles of a physiological and spiritual evolution. The first one is entitled Puberty, and shows a little girl seated naked on her bed, an anxious question written across her face. In the second, Vampire, a man bends over to bury his face in the bosom of the woman holding him in her arms, while she too bends forward to bite him in the nape of the neck. This image of woman as desired and feared, seductive and destructive, is at the heart of the anxieties that made Munch for a long time the victim of his personal hell. In this he bears a strong resemblance to Strindberg, whose misogyny, encouraged by his marital disappointments and complicated, as in Munch's case, by constant ambivalence, caused him to depict woman in his writings as Madonna and as Vampire.
In an 1894 engraving, Harpy, Munch repeated this theme in another form in which the harpy, half woman and half bird, stands over the cadaver of a man. He later composed a lithograph, Poison Flower, as an illustration for the fable Alpha and Omega, in which the flower at the top of its stalk is a trefoil female head. In many of his drawings and engravings, too, we find a woman accompanied by a skeleton. In a watercolor of 1896-1897 entitled In the Cemetery, and somewhat reminiscent of the features of the Madonna and her halo, a woman walks among the graves, while a tiny skeleton, similarly haloed and bearing two arrows, the symbols of love, appears near her.





Maiden and Death


Here we should perhaps establish a distinction between two aspects of Munch's mental life that at a certain point are superimposed in his artistic creation. On the one hand, woman is depicted as the instrument of man's destruction, and as having deadly power over him. On the other hand, the apparently very strong duality of his life instinct and his death instinct caused him to conceive a kind of successful union between Eros and Thanatos, expressed in an etching of 1894, Maiden and Death, in which
we see a beautiful young female nude and a skeleton, in standing position, tenderly embracing.
Munch personally appears in this iconography of woman whom he regards as a being to be feared. In 1893, in his Self-Portrait under Female Mask, he depicts himself with a face set in an expression of sadness, fear, and disgust. The woman's face above him is a terrifying sight, with its oversized mouth and immense, coallike eyes. As always, however, this woman is simultaneously deadly and desired. That same year, in his picture entitled Hands, he painted a female nude surrounded by hands stretching out toward her. Two years later he created a lithograph version, subtitled Lust toward Woman. These hands in truth resemble flames, but are they devouring or purifying? They reappear around 1895 in his self-portrait In Hell, an irresistible plunge by Munch into his own depths and torments, which left him with a fondness for exploring and translating into paint the torments and troubles of other people and of humanity as a whole. In this he resembles Ibsen, who has one of the characters in The Wild Duck say, «It is good to plunge occasionally into the dark side of life.»


The Beast

Desnudo de espalda

Desnudo parisino

Muchacha bostezando

Model by the Wicker Chair

The Hands