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"[An] anxiety haunts the work of Edvard Munch, [that] is expressed with a formal inventiveness that impinges upon the emotions before we are even aware of the subject; the deeper regions of the psyche are accessible only through the potent agency of rhythm and color.
"… When Munch began studying art in Christiania (now Oslo), Norwegian artists practiced a form of Protestant, populist realism. Munch was, however, from the very start, an innovator. True, he painted genre scenes, but in a spirit all his own. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was five. At fourteen, he watched his fifteen-year-old sister Sophie succumb to the same disease. When, at twenty-two, he acquired the technical means to portray it, her death became an obsession to which he returned again and again: the wan face in profile against the pillow, the despairing mother at the bedside, the muted light, the tousled hair, the useless glass of water.
"Norway had long been under the influence of German aesthetics. Until 1870, Norwegian artists usually went to Düsseldorf to study and pursue a career. Later, they went to Paris, Berlin, Munich and Karlsruhe. But by 1880, Paris had become the center. And so it was that Munch, in 1885, undertaking his first journey at twenty-two, was led to discover French art and the Symbolist spirit. It was in these circumstances that Munch's personal neurosis, the anxiety which women caused him (although he pursued them incessantly until the great psychological crisis of his forties), entered the ambit of cultural anxiety expressed in Symbolist art.
"Munch was chiefly concerned with his own existential drama: 'My art', he declared, 'is rooted in a single reflection: why am I not as others are? Why was there a curse on my cradle? Why did I come into the world without any choice?', adding 'My art gives meaning to my life'. Thus he considered his entire work as a single entity: The Frieze of Life. The frieze was manifestly an expression of anxiety (for example, in The Scream) but also of tender pathos: of the 'dance of life'. (This seems to have been a common subject at the time; we find Gustav Mahler alluding to it in reference to the dance-like movements of his symphonies.) Munch … perceived sex as an ineluctable destiny, and few of his works represent Woman (capitalized as usual) in a favorable light. In Puberty a skinny young girl meditates, sitting naked on her bed beneath the threatening form of her own shadow, while in The Voice a young woman, alone in the woods, attends to some inner whisper; these are the most sensitive representations of woman in Munch's work.
"In another iconic image, the Madonna, of which he painted various versions between 1893 and 1902, overtly offers her ecstatic sexuality and yet remains inaccessible. Why inaccessible? A lithographic version suggests the answer: around the frame which encloses the seductress the straggling spermatozoa wriggle in vain while, in the lower left-hand corner, a pathetic homunculus, a wizened and ageless wide-eyed fetus, lifts its supplicant gaze toward the goddess.
"Munch's lithograph verges on irony, to which he was not averse. Even so, modifying the well-known phrase, we may wish to suggest that 'irony is the courtesy of despair'. Munch's art represents women in the light of trauma. Seduction itself is a source of anxiety; satisfaction brings remorse (Ashes), and jealousy and separation are experienced as terrifying and depressing events.
"The personal aspect of Munch's work need not concern us in relation to a coherent and authoritative œuvre whose themes are … common to many other artists of the time. But it should be noted that, at around forty-five, Munch suffered a profound depression and spent eight months in a sanatorium in Denmark. Thereafter he gave up the anxiety-laden subject matter so central to his work and began painting everyday subjects with the same vigorous brushwork and expressionistic colors as before. His motives may have been prophylactic. He later claimed to a friend that he had simultaneously given up women and alcohol, though here again irony is not ruled out."
- From "Symbolism", a Taschen art book by Michael Gibson.
Books on Edvard MunchTHE STORY OF EDVARD MUNCH
by Ketil BJØRNSTAD
Translated from the Norwegian by Torbjfrn Stfverud and Hal Sutcliffe.
Published by Arcadia Books. ISBN I-900850-44-3.
From the cover:
"Damaged by childhood and by appalling family tragedies, the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch was obsessed by sickness, insanity and death.
"His life was tormented by persecution mania and emotional and physical fragility. Relationships with women foundered in loathing and mistrust, friendships frequently turned to enmity and violence, and his dark, difficult genius was misunderstood.
"Yet his tortured and shockingly personal art, which at first provoked outrage, eventually gained him fame, wealth and the respect of the art establishment that had rejected him, and of his native Norway. In a single year, no fewer than eleven exhibitions of his paintings were shown throughout Europe, and the city of Oslo built a museum to house his work.
"Using Munch's own letters and diaries and those of his contemporaries and friends, as well as newspapers and journals of the time, Ketil Bjfrnstad's 'literary biography' - which can be read as a novel - presents us with a picture of Edvard Munch as unsparingly true as any of his self-portraits."
'Fascinating as a literary reconstruction of Munch's life which brings us closer to the man and the artist' - Anglo-Norsk Review.
A central passage from this work:
"He stands in the middle of a smoke-filled music hall listening to some Romanians sing about love. It is then that it happens, that he suddenly thinks: I ought to do something, begin something, something which should strike others as forcibly as it now strikes me. But is this new? Isn't it just the same old story he's been boring his friends to death with for years, from Colditz to Goldstein? Isn't it just his Jæger-inspired thoughts about the magic of the passing moment which he has taken over as his own? He says: I ought to do something, begin something. It sounds like the same words, yet suddenly he sees the motifs, not a landscape in the morning light, not just any chance event, not the vintner in St Cloud, not the bar, not random people he comes across on the road, who in any case mean nothing to him. He thinks of two people, a man and a woman, at the most sacred moment in their lives. A sturdy bare arm, a strong tanned neck, a young woman lays her head against the arched chest. She closes her eyes and listen with quivering, open mouth to the words he whispers into her long, flowing hair. He stands in the Montagnes Russes and knows what the motif means, knows what he saw, knows that he is going to paint it in a blue haze. He sees Summer Night/The Voice, To the Forest and Eye to Eye, he sees Kiss and Vampire. He stands there in the smoke-filled music hall and feels that it is going to be so easy, is going to take shape beneath his hands as though by magic. The woman closes her eyes and listens with open, quivering mouth. At that moment, the man and woman are not themselves, but are just one link among the thousands connecting one generation to another. He stands there and thinks that people should understand how sacred and majestic what is happening between the man and the woman on the canvas is, they should remove their hats as though in church. Not just one, but a whole series of such pictures. The flesh will take on form, the colours take on life. The man and the woman breathe and feel, suffer and love. No more interiors, people reading and women knitting. Munch stands in the Montagnes Russes and sees The Frieze of Life take shape, the stages in the lives of people, his own history, love, anguish, death. He sees the sickroom at Fossveien, the russet-coloured house in Borre, the summer night at Åsgårdstrand. He is an orphaned lad in St Cloud. He has sat night after night at a window watching the boats glide past. Now violins are being tuned, now he hears notes he recognizes: the Carilla Waltz, the one she sang at the piano, captivating with her sweetest, most charming voice, now cajoling, now beseeching. He is ensnared. She is laughing, joyful, mocking, pushes him away then takes pity on him. Now he is no longer hers. She is his. He can use her however he likes, because here he stands in the Montagnes Russes and sees all the unpainted pictures in front of him. He is going to paint his life. His own life. A sturdy bare arm. A strong tanned neck. The forest. The sea. A blue haze. And he remembers everything that happened as though it were yesterday."
EDVARD MUNCH, THE FRIEZE OF LIFE FROM PAINTING TO GRAPHIC ART, LOVE - ANGST - DEATH
Translated from the Norwegian by Hal Sutcliffe and Torbjørn Støverud.
From the cover:
"Edvard Munch's ruthless self-revelation through his art mirrors not only the particular nature of the artist but the style of a whole age; what was private was to be revealed in the full gaze of the public. A central concept in Munch's art thus became The Frieze of Life, a series of deeply personal pictures conveying an existential message. Munch captured the painful experiences of Love - Angst - Death with his pen long before he painted them. It is this relationship between the painter's own "poetic" texts and the motifs in The Frieze of Life that Arne Eggum set out to focus on in this work, and by juxtaposing them he has added an important dimension to our understanding of Munch's art."
From the Foreword:
"A fundamental concept in Edvard Munch's art is The Frieze of Life, a series of deeply personal, highly expressive motifs in paintings and graphic works, imbued with existential angst. Together, the pictures constitute his major work. On the subject of the origins of The Frieze of Life, Munch wrote in the early thirties in a draft letter to his friend Jens Thiis:
You don't need to look very far for the origins of The Frieze of Life - It can be explained by the age of the Bohemians - The idea was to paint life as it was lived or one's own life - Besides that, I had already had the whole Frieze of Life ready in poetic form for a long time, so you could say that all the spade work was already finished many years before I came to Berlin."It is this relationship between Munch's own 'poetic' texts and the series of motifs on the theme of love - angst - death which I focus upon in this book. Munch's own literary efforts, written in intimate contact with the literature of his time, give direct insight into his conscious artistic intentions and also a deeper understanding of the human content which is so obtrusively present in this series of pictures. It is the content which is their mainstay. The experiences which lie beneath and behind the individual motifs seem to bear down upon the artist in the act of creation.
"In the catalogue for an exhibition entitled Liebe - Angst - Tod, a joint venture between the Munch Museum and the Bielefeld Kunsthalle in 1980, I discussed the relationship between the graphic works exhibited and Munch's literary texts. This exhibition, an edited version of which was also shown at the Munch Museum, inspired me to reflect more deeply on this topic and explore it further.
"On a number of occasions, Edvard Munch indicated that he was planning to publish his literary texts relating to graphic works. The painted motifs in The Frieze of Life struck me as a natural place to start, then, in line with Munch's own intentions, focusing on the graphic expression of The Frieze of Life, in this attempt to show how his literary texts are reflected in his art."
Edvard Munch, Harald Sohlberg : Landscapes of the Mind, by Ivind Storm Bjerke
Edvard Munch : Starry Night (Getty Museum Studies on Art), by Louise Lippincott
The Symbolist Prints of Edvard Munch: The Vivian and David Campbell Collection, by Elizabeth Prelinger
Edvard Munch : The Man and His Art, by Ragna Thiis Stang
Buy Edvard Munch
Edvard Munch Images* Links to other Munch images online can be found at Artcyclopedia.
|1890||Night in St. Cloud|
|1892||Evening on Karl Johan|
|1893||The Scream (Oil)|
|c. 1895||Death in the Sickroom|
|1895||The Scream (Litho)|
|1895||Self-Portrait with Burning Cigarette|
|1899-1900||The Dance of Life|
|1899-1900||The Dead Mother|
|1904||Count Henry Kessler|
|1913-15||Workers Returning Home (Oil)|
|after 1916||Workers Returning Home (Watercolor)|
|1919||Self-portrait after the Spanish Flu|
|1919-21||Model by the Wicker Chair|
|c. 1923-25||Old Trees|
|1940||Self Portrait: Between Clock and Bed|