The last major works
Despite the aesthetic disorder
revealed by all these works, they constitute the most spontaneous
and unreflective portion of his work at this period. For Munch had
now undertaken commissions for murals as well, the first of which,
painted at Krageroe, were for the assembly hall of the University of
Oslo, where they were installed in 1916, after the artist had
overcome the many difficulties involved in obtaining acceptance of
These large panels are in part a
repetition by Munch, in a more universal form, of the ideology of
his Frieze of Life, which, he said, had helped him to develop his «
decorative sense.» The compositions bear such titles as The Sun, The
Human Mountain, The Researchers, History, Chemistry, and Alma Mater.
Although nothing in them warrants our viewing them as Expressionist
paintings, in elaborating his themes Munch retained a spiritual
attitude that may justify what the Austrian writer Hermann Bahr saw
in Expressionism, namely, a manifestation of the «universal soul» (Gesamtgeist).
The outcome of Munch's lengthy preparatory studies is very
disappointing. Patient effort has succeeded violence: we feel in
them a laborious studio labor in which philosophical intent does not
palliate pictorial weakness.
The murals he painted in 1922 for the dining room of the Freia
chocolate factory in Oslo are no better; they are a repetition, in
greatly impoverished and almost caricatural fashion, of several
subjects from his excellent early paintings. Even more disappointing
are the paintings for the numerous panels intended for the Oslo City
Hall, which he began working on in 1928 and continued until his
death in 1944. It is true that in the interval, beginning in 1930,
sight problems obliged him to almost completely abandon his artistic
activity for several years.
During this period, however, Munch came to be considered a national
hero in his native land. He wanted for neither commissions nor
honors. In 1908 he was named Knight of the Royal Order of Saint Olaf,
and the Grand Cross of the same Order was awarded to him in 1933.
Major exhibitions were devoted to him, not only in Scandinavia but
also in Cologne (1912), Zurich, Basel, and Berne (1922), Berlin and
Mannheim (1927), Dresden (1929), London (1936), and Amsterdam
(1937). For a long time to come, however, he continued to be
unappreciated in France, and not until 1952, several years after his
death, was a Munch exhibition held at the Petit Palais in Paris.
Since then there has been just one exhibition of his graphic work at
the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in 1969 to remind us that he was a
remarkable engraver. The 1974 retrospective at the Musee National
d'Art Moderne, with 86 canvases, 55 watercolors and drawings, and
116 prints can be regarded as just, if tardy, reparation for an
incomprehensible omission. However, the works exhibited represent
only a small portion of the 1,000 canvases, 4,400 watercolors and
drawings, more than 15,000 prints, and six sculptures left by the
Norwegian painter. The existence of this great body of work made it
possible to establish the Munch Museum in Oslo, which was opened in
Apart from the particular features relative to the various periods
of his evolution, and the aesthetic and psychological
characteristics revealed by an analysis of his art, what strikes us
in Munch's work (and this was probably one of the reasons it escaped
the attention of many historians of modern art) is the fact that it
cannot be included fully in any given « school. »
If the Expressionists adopted him, it was because his work, as
embodied in a certain number of paintings, anticipated their
conceptions. But, as we have seen, what Munch created goes far
beyond the theoretical and formal limits of Expressionism. Thus
nothing justifies the persistence with which this body of work has
been classified as a branch of the historical line of painting,
because in fact this sideline or branch is the very factor that
challenges the merits of the «historical line,» and this it is,
precisely, that shows Munch's independence and originality.
The fact that his output was uneven during his sixty years of
creative activity is of interest to us only insofar as our curiosity
about the man is concerned with the effects on his art of the
contradictory aspects of his nature and the happy or unhappy events
in his life. But our curiosity would be meaningless were it not
motivated by the admiration aroused in us by one of the most
individual and most disturbing painters of our century.
The Murderer on the Lane
Los cuatro hijos de Dr. Max
Dia de verano
Jovenes y patos
Self-Portrait Between Bed and Clock
Workers Returning Home
Workers Returning Home
Atardecer en el Paseo Karl Johann
The Seine at Saint-Cloud. 1890. 46 × 38 cm. Munch Museum,
At the Roulette Table in
Monte Carlo. 1892. 74,5 × 116 cm. Munch Museum, Oslo
August Strindberg. 1892.
Oil on canvas, 120 × 90 cm. Museum of Modern Art, Stockholm,
Starry Night. 1893.
135.6 × 140 cm. J. Paul Getty Museum.
Evening. Melancholy I.
1896. 41.1 × 55.7 cm. Munch Museum, Oslo
Separation. 1896. 96 ×
127 cm. Munch Museum, Oslo
Metabolism. 1898–99. 172
× 142 cm. Munch Museum, Oslo
Train Smoke. 1900. 84 ×
109 cm. Munch Museum, Oslo
Portrait of Friedrich
Death of Marat I (1907)
Jealousy. 1907. 75 × 98
cm. Munch Museum, Oslo
1910–12. 148 × 120 cm. Munch Museum, Oslo
On the Sofa. 1913. 80 ×
150 cm. Munch Museum, Oslo
Weeping Nude. 1913–14.
110 × 135 cm. Munch Museum, Oslo
Self-Portrait in Hell.
1903. 82 × 66 cm. Munch Museum, Oslo