February 13, 2009

The Art of Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch (1863-1944) was a Norwegian painter and printmaker and is now regarded as one of modern art's most influential and electrifying protagonists. He was born in a rustic farmhouse in Loten, Norway.

In 1879 Munch enrolled in a technical college to study engineering, where he excelled in physics, chemistry, and math. He learned scaled and perspective drawing, but frequent illnesses interrupted his studies.

The following year, much to his father’s disappointment, Munch left the college determined to become a painter. His father viewed art as an “unholy trade”, and his neighbors reacted bitterly and sent him anonymous letters. In contrast to his father’s rabid pietism, Munch adopted an undogmatic stance toward art, writing in his diary his simple goal: “in my art I attempt to explain life and its meaning to myself.”

(Munch, Edvard. The Scream. c. 1893.
oil, tempera & pastel on cardboard. National Gallery, Oslo, Norway.)

The Scream. has now become a symbol of anxiety in our own present time. It is his most famous work and is brilliantly composed to create maximum tension. The shrieking colors and violent juxtaposition of curved and straight lines all flow toward the central, screaming figure, as though the environment itself is expressing emotion through the distorted death-head.

(Munch, Edvard. Spring Evening on Karl Johan Street.
c. 1892. oil on canvas. Rasmus Meyer Collection, Bergen.)

Munch suffered from depression and mental illness but used them to produce extraordinary, often frenzied, work. His pessimistic view of life was conveyed in bold colors and strong lines, anticipating Expressionism and opening up exciting new avenues for art. He covered existential themes such as life, death, and despair in a self-described attempt to “dissect souls.”

(Munch, Edvard. Birgitte Prestoe. c. 1924. oil on canvas.)

Munch began painting in Oslo, but his sojourns in Paris exposed him to Postimpressionist and Symbolist influences, particularly the work of Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gaugin and he began using swirling brushwork, simplified forms and non-naturalistic color to convey emotion.

(Munch, Edvard. The Murderer. c. 1916. oil on canvas.)

Although Munch realized that his genius owed much to his turbulent mind, a breakdown in 1908 inspired a change of style, as he determined to lead a calmer life. His output, however, remained prodigious. Munch’s dark subject matter in conjunction with his display of emotion is extremely intense in his works and it is much appreciated here!!

Enjoy :)

Reference: King, R. Art. New York: Dk Publishing, 2008.