Edvard Munch Paintings Biography And Quotes

Edvard Munch Paintings Biography And Quotes

We're going to be looking at the history and artwork of the renowned Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, his work was full of emotion and agony.

Edvard Munch Background

Edvard Munch was born on the 12th of December 1863 in Ådalsbruk in Løten, in Norway. The son of Dr. Christian Munch and his wife Laura. Munch had three sisters Sophie, Laura, Inger, and a brother called Andreas. However, family life was extremely stressful for Edvard.  In 1868 at the age of five, his mother died of tuberculosis, as a result, his father fell into a dark depression. So Karen his wife's sister took over the running and management of the house. The difficulty was intensified when in 1877 Munch's sister Sophie also died of tuberculosis, she was 15 years old. At that time Edvard Munch was just 14 and if that was not enough, his younger sister Laura had mental issues in her teenage years and spent a huge part of her life regulated in a mental hospital. 

Edvard Munch Paintings

It is not shocking therefore that sickness and death left a strong mark on Munch's childhood, especially the death of his sister Sophie. Whose suffering he later displayed in his painting the sick child.

Edvard Munch, The Sick Child, 1896 

These family problems added to Munch's own on-off struggles with mental illness and alcoholism. As well as providing the motivation for some of his most influential paintings.

Edvard Munch Self-Portrait with a Bottle of Wine, 1906

Munch left school at the age of 16 and chose to study engineering but the next year he quit his studies, after determining he wanted to become a painter. In early1881 he started to attend the Christian Drawing Academy and also sold his first two paintings. A couple of years later, Munch leased a studio in Christiania, now known as Oslo with six other art students. They were lucky enough to receive support and guidance from the naturalistic painter and illustrator Christian Krohg. Initially, Munch's work was profoundly influenced by Krohg's naturalistic paintings. Krohg's Influence can clearly be seen in Edvard Munch painting of At The Coffee Table. 


Christian Krohg Self-portrait, 1912

Munch presented at the Oslo autumn exhibition for the first time in 1883, and in 1885 exhibited his work at The Antwerp World Exhibition during this period, he worked on three major paintings: The Day After, Puberty, and The Sick Child painting, it was also around this time he had his first true relationship with Millie Thaulow.

Millie Thaulow

Millie Thaulow

Millie Thaulow was a wife of a distant relative, he was fascinated with her, but she stopped the relationship abruptly after two years leaving him tormented and desolate.

Nevertheless, in 1886 Munch exhibited several paintings including, The Sick Child, at the Oslo autumn exhibition and the public, were dismayed. It is difficult to understand, now, why the painting provokes such a violent and angry response when it was first shown. Today the subject seems quite ordinary but notice the use of the corresponding color of the red of the hair clashing with the Greens of the dress. You'll also notice from now on in most of Munch's paintings he abandons the use of localized color. He uses primary and complementary colors instead because these colors combinations have a much grander expressive power. What perhaps is more significant is that Munch became increasingly resistant to paint realistic backgrounds. So his subjects seem to be in some sort of uncertain space, this is unusual because it makes us focus much more on the psychology, the thoughts, and the emotions of the figures, and less on that particular state.

Later in 1889, Munch had his first solo exhibition in Oslo it was very successful and led to Munch being awarded a state grant to study drawing with Leone Bana in Paris but quickly after coming to France. Munch's father died, and his grief drove him into a deep depression and heavy drinking, so he was not ready to paint for several months.

Edvard Munch, Spring Day on the Karl Johan Street, 1890


However, in 1890 he went back to Oslo and painted Spring Day on the Karl Johan Street. This was greatly influenced by Georges Seurat pointillist neo-impressionists style although you'll notice Edvard's impatiens with Seurat's scientific pointillist method to painting, as the characters in the middle are not painted In this style.

Munch returned to Paris and took a room at the 49 rulers Fayette and there in May 1891 he painted another of his impressionist works Rue Lafayette. Munch later explained the work as a brief revival of the impressionist era, it's apparently a view from the balcony of Munch's room.

Edvard Munch, Rue Lafayette, 1891


In 1892 Munch returned home to Norway and he spent the summer in Ă…sgĂĄrd. Later that year, at the end of October, he displayed 55 paintings in Berlin but was disturbed by the antagonistic reception he got both from the public and the press. Who couldn't even spell his name right, referring to him as Blunch and not Munch? As a result, the exhibition ended after a week but it was not all bad, because of the news of the disgrace of the exhibition closing early. Drove the exhibition going on tour to Cologne DĂĽsseldorf and surprisingly it was back in Berlin by the end of the year with a much better response. The next year or so Munch stayed in Berlin he managed to sell enough paintings to scrape a living. While working on what would become his most famous series of paintings The Frieze of Life.

The Frieze of Life was a series of paintings which were very much influenced by his own experiences. The paintings examined life, love, death, and would occupy Munch for many years. It was during this year 1893, he produced his most famous painting The Scream, which is an essential part of his Frieze of Life.

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893


There are over 50 versions of The Scream painting. The scream embodies and deals with fear and the loneliness of man in a natural environment, in Munch's diary, there is an entry which explains the event on which the painting is based. It reads "I was walking with friends when the song began to set and suddenly the sky turned blood-red, I paused feeling exhausted and leaned on the fence. There were blood and tongues of fire above the blue dark field and the city, my friends walked on and there I stood trembling with fear. And I sensed the endless scream passing through nature" throughout the next couple of years Munch proceeded to work on the Frieze of Life finishing several important paintings.

Edvard Munch, Ashes, 1894


In the Ashes, we can see the failure of a love affair but the painting also investigates the psychology of the moment. The figures seem to be suspended in an expressive gesture which is challenging to put into words, yet we recognize them perfectly.

Edvard Munch, Melancholy, 1894


Melancholy examines jealousy as a theme which Munch often studied. In the bohemian society of Oslo, In the 1890s free love was often supported. Polygamous relationships were conceived resulting in bitter jealousies. This is displayed in the painting, note the two figures in the background, about to embark on a short trip together to a deserted island and compare them with a third figure in the foreground.

Edvard Munch, By The Death Bed, 1893


In the painting, By The Death Bed, you will see the patient no longer is the focal point of the painting. Rather the focus moves to the hands and the heads of the family at his bedside, they are all connected together in grief by this the huge black shadow. It may be significant that Munch's younger brother Andreas died of pneumonia a year before this Death Bed painting was created.

These paintings of death form the final part of the Frieze of Life. The series of paintings were first exhibited under the name the Frieze of Life in Berlin In 1902. However, in later shows in, Leipzig Oslo Prague, Munch included new paintings.

Tulla Larsen

Tulla Larsen

In1898 Munch met the woman who would become his great muse, Tulla Larsen. She was the rich daughter of one of managing wine merchants, from the very start she sought him aggressively and their relationship started much against his will. Munch retreated to Berlin and Paris but she tracked him down, he'd declined to meet with her however he gave in eventually. In fact, he memorialized the relationship in his painting The Dance of Life.

Edvard Munch, The Dance of Life, 1900


On the left, we can see the youthful woman in white looking ahead to life. In the middle, a passionate woman dancing with the man, her red dress nearly encircling him, and an anguished woman in black on the right. All three resemble Tulla Larsen and the girls dancing in the background may also resemble Tulla as well. The man in the foreground appears to be Munch, Tulla Larsen longed to marry Munch however, he once wrote that the touch of narrow clammy lips was like the kiss of a corpse.

Edvard Munch Self-portrait


Eventually though in 1902 after Munch had lost their pre-marriage documents he escaped to Italy then Berlin. Despite his heavy drinking, he finished the Freeze of Life. However, the saga was not over, after disappearing for a year Tulla Larsen suddenly reappeared claiming her break from Munch had left her suicidal and depressed. Munch reluctantly agreed to see her but there was an argument which somehow resulted in Munch shooting himself, he actually just lost the tip of his finger which he later described as a monstrosity that everybody stared at. As a result, he never showed his hand in public again or in painting, always ensuring he wore gloves. A few months after the incident, Tulla Larsen married another artist.

In 1904 Munch exhibited with the Berlin and Viennese secessions the following year he spent the winter in Germany to calm his nerves and combat his drinking. However, in the autumn of 1908 Munsch collapsed in Copenhagen. Munch was persuaded to check himself into a private sanatorium on the outskirts of the city because he was hallucinating and was partially paralyzed down his left side. After six months in hospital, his drinking reduced and he regained most of his mental stability. It was keen to get back to painting but he was now alone, the tumultuous life he had laid was now behind him, and a new the phase of isolation began in his life.

As a result after 1908, a lot of his work doesn't seem to have the same poignancy, drama, and psychological impact as paintings completed before that date. Munch's returned to Norway in 1909 and rented a house in Kragerø, where he began work on the murals for the Great Hall of Oslo University, which he completed around 1916.

Edvard Munch, The Sun, 1909


The centerpiece of the installation was the painting, The Sun, it was a massive canvas more than seven meters wide. The Sun is depicted as all persuasive shining from the heavens on the land and sea its rays providing all sources of life.

Munch was nearly sixty, in 1921 when he was commissioned to paint a frieze of 12 large paintings. For the Freia Chocolate Factory in Oslo, by the factory's founder Johann Throne-Holst the paintings were installed in the women's canteen in 1923. Throne-Holst had decided that for the female workers only the best was good enough, so he got Norway's greatest painter Munch to decorate their canteen, with women as the main characters. The paintings depict everyday scenes, from the resort towns on Norway's East Coast. Munch received the equivalent of 10,000 euros for his work.

In 1916, Munch bought a former plant nursery called the Ekely estate in the outskirts of Oslo, he lived there for the next 28 years until his death. The estate consisted of 11 acres of fields, containing apple trees, bushy shrubs, and several large outdoor studios. In 1919, he caught Spanish flu but survived and commissioned an architect to build him yet another large studio. During its construction, many of the construction workers became subjects of a number of his paintings. In the 1930s painting became more difficult because of Munch contracted an eye disease but in 1933 on the occasion of the 70th birthday he was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Olaf, and three years later saw his the first exhibition in England.

1937 saw the Nazis label 82 of Munch paintings as degenerate and removed them from the exhibition in Germany, they would eventually be repatriated to Norway, where they were auctioned off. German forces invaded Norway in 1940 but Munch refused to have anything to do with the occupation forces, locking himself aware in his Ekely estate, he embarked on a number of unflinchingly revealing self-portraits, which explore the theme of an old man facing the prospect of death.

Edvard Munch, Self-portrait Between The Clock And The Bed, 1943


In the months before he died Munch painted Self-portrait Between The Clock And The Bed ironically, he seems like a man who has held himself back from the dance of life. Munch looks awkwardly squashed between the grandfather clock and the bed and looks as though he shouldn't be occupying the area.

On the 12th of December, 1943 tributes flooded in for his 80th birthday but he was hurting from a severe cold which he failed to recover from. Munch died peacefully in his sleep on the 23rd of January 1944. In his will he left his entire estate to the city of Oslo, his inheritance consisted of 1,150 paintings 17,000 prints, 4,500 watercolors and drawings, and 13 sculptures, as well as writings and literary notes, the collection, established the basis of the Edvard Munch Museum which opened in Oslo in 1963.

I hope you've really enjoyed learning about the great Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, I will conclude with one of my favorite quotes by Edvard. "No longer shall I paint interiors with men reading and women knitting. I will paint living people who breathe and feel and suffer and love."

If you like this article, please share it with others, so perhaps they can also enjoy it. Any of the artwork purchased on ATX Fine Arts accommodates me as an artist, along with helping the site grow organically, thank you very much.

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