Edvard Munch

the_screamNorwiegian painter and printmaker Edvard Munch sadly passed away 23 January 1944. Born 12 December 1863 in Ådalsbruk in Løten. He inherited his artistic talent from his mother and was related to painter Jacob Munch (1776–1839) and historian Peter Andreas Munch (1810–1863). Often ill for much of the winters and kept out of school, Edvard would draw to keep himself occupied, and received tutoring from his school mates and his aunt. Christian Munch also instructed his son in history and literature, and entertained the children with vivid ghost-stories and tales of Edgar Allan Poe. The oppressive religious upbringing by his Father, plus Edvard’s poor health and the vivid ghost stories, helped inspire macabre visions and nightmares in Edvard, who felt death constantly advancing on him. Munch would later write, “I inherited two of mankind’s most frightful enemies—the heritage of consumption and insanity.” By his teens, art dominated Munch’s interests. At thirteen, Munch had his first exposure to other artists at the newly formed Art Association, where he admired the work of the Norwegian landscape school. He returned to copy the paintings, and soon he began to paint in oils.

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”.In 1881, Munch enrolled at the Royal School of Art and Design of Christiania. Munch demonstrated his quick absorption of his figure training at the Academy in his first portraits, including one of his father and his first self-portrait. In 1883, Munch took part in his first public exhibition and shared a studio with other students. During these early years in his career, Munch experimented with many styles, including Naturalism and Impressionism. Some early works are reminiscent of Manet, and he continued to employ a variety of brushstroke technique and color palettes throughout the 1880s and early 1890s, as he struggled to define his style. His idiom continued to veer between naturalistic, as seen in Portrait of Hans Jæger, and impressionistic, as in Rue Lafayette. He began to carefully calculate his compositions to create tension and emotion. While stylistically influenced by the Post-Impressionists, what evolved was a subject matter which was symbolist in content, depicting a state of mind rather than an external reality.

In 1889, Munch presented his first one-man show of nearly all his works to date. The recognition it received led to a two-year state scholarship to study in Paris. His picture, Morning (1884), was displayed at the Norwegian pavilion.He spent his mornings in the studio (which included live female models) and afternoons at the exhibition, galleries, and museums. Munch was enthralled by the vast display of modern European art, including the works of three artists who would prove influential: Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. He was particularly inspired by Gauguin’s “reaction against realism” and his credo that “art was human work and not an imitation of Nature”.By 1892, Munch formulated his characteristic, and original, Synthetist aesthetic, as seen in Melancholy (1891).In Berlin, Munch involved himself in an international circle of writers, artists and critics. During his four years in Berlin, Munch sketched out most of the ideas that would comprise his major work, including The Frieze of Life, His other paintings, including casino scenes, Ashes, Death in a Sick Room and The Scream which is one of his best known works and was painted in 1893,& has been widely interpreted as representing the universal anxiety of modern man. Painted with broad bands of garish color and highly simplified forms, and employing a high viewpoint, the agonized figure is reduced to a garbed skull in the throes of an emotional crisis. It is one of only a few paintings, among them “Whistler’s Mother, Wood’s American Gothic and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, whose impact is immediate & meaning can be seen straight away.

In December 1893, Unter den Linden in Berlin held an exhibition of Munch’s work, showing, among other pieces, six paintings entitled Study for a Series: Love. This began a cycle he later called the Frieze of Life – A Poem about Life, Love and Death. In 1896, Munch moved to Paris, where he focused on graphic representations of his “Frieze of Life” themes. He further developed his woodcut and lithographic technique. Munch’s Self-Portrait With Skeleton Arm. Munch also produced a multi-colored versions of “The Sick Child” as well as several nudes and multiple versions of Kiss. Munch returned to Christiania in 1897 and painted landscapes and his final painting in “The Frieze of Life” series, The Dance of Life . In 1900 he returned to Berlin, where he painted Girls on the Jetty to demonstrate the theme of feminine youth without negative connotations. In 1902, he displayed his works thematically at the hall of the Berlin Succession, producing “a symphonic effect”. Despite his success Munch’s self-destructive and erratic behavior continued, and after he got involved in an accidental shooting, his wife left him, this affected him deeply & he chanelled his bitterness into the paintings Still Life (The Murderess) and The Death of Marat I.

In 1903-4, Munch exhibited in Paris where the coming Fauvists, famous for their boldly false colors, likely saw his works and might have found inspiration in them. When the Fauves held their own exhibit in 1906, Munch was invited and displayed his works with theirs.During this time, Munch received many commissions for portraits and prints which improved his usually precarious financial condition. After an earlier period of landscapes, in 1907 he turned his attention again to human figures and situations. However, in the autumn of 1908, Munch’s anxiety, compounded by excessive drinking and brawling, had become acute. Subject to hallucinations and feelings of persecution, he entered the clinic of Dr. Daniel Jacobson where he received therapy for the next eight months Munch’s stay in hospital stabilized his personality, and after returning to Norway in 1909, his work became more colorful and less pessimistic. Further brightening his mood museums began to purchase his paintings and he was made a Knight of the Royal Order of St. Olav “for services in art”. His first American exhibit was in 1912 in New York & produced several full-length portraits of high quality of friends and patrons & also created landscapes and scenes of people at work and play, using a new optimistic style—broad, loose brushstrokes of vibrant color with frequent use of white space and rare use of black.

Munch spent most of his last two decades in solitude at his nearly self-sufficient estate in Ekely, at Skøyen, Oslo. Many of his later paintings celebrate farm life. Munch also continued to paint unsparing self-portraits, unflinching series of snapshots of his emotional and physical states. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazis labeled Munch’s work “degenerate art” (along with Picasso, Paul Klee, Matisse, Gauguin and many other modern artists) and removed his 82 works from German museums.In 1940, the Germans invaded Norway and the Nazi party took over the government. Munch was seventy-six years old. With nearly an entire collection of his art in the second floor of his house, Munch lived in fear of a Nazi confiscation. Seventy-one of the paintings previously taken by the Nazis had found their way back to Norway through purchase by collectors (the other eleven were never recovered), including The Scream and The Sick Child, and they too were hidden from the Nazis. Munch died in his house at Ekely near Oslo on 23 January 1944, about a month after his 80th birthday. When Munch died, his remaining works were bequeathed to the city of Oslo, which built the Munch Museum at Tøyen which hosts a collection of approximately 1,100 paintings, 4,500 drawings, and 18,000 prints, the broadest collection of his works in the world

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