Munch's Starry Night can easily be mistaken for a work by Van Gogh
Admit it – you’ve seen this painting before, and you probably know what it’s called, but you know nothing about who painted it. You might know his name, but you couldn’t identify another one of his paintings if your life depended on it! And that’s sad, because Edvard Munch was not only responsible for possibly the most instantly recognizable painting ever created (yes, we’re talking about The Scream), but also thousands of other works including paintings, prints, watercolors, drawings, woodcuts, etchings, lithographs, photographs, and sculptures over 6 decades of the 19th and 20th centuries.
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His aunt Karen is credited with introducing young Edvard to art. He showed a flair for drawing at an early age but received little formal training. He attended the Royal Technical College in Kristiania to train as an engineer but dropped out after a year due to his poor health. He began devoting more time to painting, and in 1881 enrolled at the Royal School of Art and Design, also in Kristiana, where he studied sculpture.
Munch’s early painting were in the Naturalism style, consisting mainly of landscapes. For example, Winter Landscape with House and Red Sky, 1881 and Landscape Maridalen by Oslo, 1881.
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Munch faced criticism from critics that his paintings didn’t seem to be finished. But he wanted them to look that way. He wanted them to be raw and rough, and not smooth and shiny. It was emotion he wanted to depict.
"It's not the chair that should be painted," he wrote, "but what a person has felt at the sight of it."
Munch was a pioneer and influencer of 20th century artists, and one of the most prolific painters of all time. He painted his most famous work, his first version of The Scream, in 1893. He called it The Scream in Nature, but in Norway people call it Skrik, or in English “Shriek”. Most of the English-speaking world just calls it The Scream. Munch created multiple versions of many of his paintings, and there would eventually be 3 other versions of The Scream – pastel versions in 1893 and 1895, and a 2nd painted version around 1910. He also mass-produced the painting through a lithograph, which enabled him to sell many black and white versions.
In 2012, the 1895 pastel version of The Scream was sold at Sotheby’s in London for 120 million US Dollars, which at the time was a record sale for a work of art. The Scream is also a popular target of art thieves – a version was stolen from Oslo’s National Gallery in 1994. The thieves left a note saying, “Thanks for the poor security”. It was recovered 3 months later. In 2004, the 1910 version of The Scream, along with another of Munch’s works, Madonna, was stolen at gunpoint from the Munch Museum in Oslo. Both were recovered 2 years later
From 1892 to 1896, Munch lived in Berlin. The city’s intellectual community furthered his interest in exploring the joys and disappointment of love, and his paintings began showing emotions like loss, anguish, and despair. Munch came to treat the visible as though it were a window into a not fully formed, if not fundamentally disturbing, human psychology.
During these and subsequent trips to Paris, where he attended the Salon des Independents Exhibitions and saw paintings by van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Munch became familiar with and began adopting the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist styles. Munch took up the more graphic, symbolist sensibility of Gaugin, and in turn became one of the most controversial and eventually renowned artists among a new generation of continental Expressionist and Symbolist painters. He also lived in Paris at the same time as Vincent Van Gogh, but there was no evidence that they ever met.
Edvard Munch-Melancholy 1894
In the first decade of the 20th century, during the peak of the Art Nouveau movement, Munch continued his evolution, exploring his versions of Impressionism, Expressionism, and Modernism.
As you might expect from a man capable of creating this iconic image, Munch had a very tragic childhood. He was born near Loten, Norway in 1863, and his family moved to Kristiana (what is now known as Oslo), Norway, the following year. Tuberculosis took his mother when he was five years old, and his older sister Sophia when he was 14. He also had tuberculosis as a child but managed to live through it. He was raised by his father, a doctor who suffered from mental illness and obsessive religiousness, and his aunt Karen. Munch’s father entertained his children with scary ghost stories and readings from Edgar Allen Poe, and warned his children that their dead mother was watching them from heaven and grieving from their misbehavior. Munch’s father and brother also died when he was still young, and another sister developed mental illness. The result of all this was a neurotic, sickly man with deep seated anxiety, vulnerability, and a sense of doom and imminent death.
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Munch never married and referred to his paintings as his children. When he died in 1944 at the age of 80, basically a revered self-imposed recluse, authorities discovered over 1,000 paintings, 4,400 drawings, and more than 15,000 prints, as well as many other works in different mediums locked in the 2nd floor of his house. He bequeathed these items the Norwegian Government, and most of these items are now displayed in the Munch Museum, which opened in 1963. Andy Warhol generated renewed interest in Munch in 1984, when he was commissioned to create pop-art from The Scream.
In March 1884, Munch was recommended for the Schäffer scholarship, which he received in September. He attended an open-air academy in late summer. In 1885, Munch traveled abroad for the first time. He first went to Antwerp, Belgium where he exhibited a portrait of his sister Inger at the World Exhibition in April and May. Afterwards, he went to Paris and studied the collections at the Louvre. He also attended the Salon des Independents, the annual exhibition of contemporary art where Impressionist painters were able to display their paintings. In 1886 Munch exhibited four paintings at the Autumn Exhibition, including one of his main works, The Sick Child.
In 1906, he painted a posthumous portrait of famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, whose nihilist beliefs coincide with The Scream’s depiction of existential dread.
For the Artful Needleworker
I was walking along the road with two friends
The Sun was setting – The Sky turned blood red.
And I felt a wave of Sadness – I paused
tired to Death – Above the blue-black
Fjord and City Blood and Flaming tongues hovered
My Friends walked on – I stayed behind
– quaking with Angst – I felt the great Scream in Nature
In 1883 he had his first public exhibit at the Industry and Art Exhibition in Kristiania with his painting Head Study. You can see that at this point Munch was painting more in the Realism style. In December, Munch made his debut at the Autumn Exhibition, where he exhibited Girl Kindling a Stove and Morning, which was acclaimed by artists.
Munch painted this poem on the frame of his 1895 pastel version, revealing his reason for naming the painting:
Featured Artist: Edvard Munch
"The Dance of Life"
December 2020 Newsletter
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Some of the customizations we can do include:
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“Illness, insanity, and death were the black angels that kept watch over my cradle and accompanied me all my life.”
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