Norwegian expressionist painter, lithographer, etcher, wood engraver and photographer (1863-1944)
One of Norway's best known artists, on a level with Ibsen
, Edvard Munch was a genial personification of angst
, long before the first teenager
had laid her self-mutilated hands on a keyboard
. His paintings seem to scream
out fear or pain or just plain emotion
, and they do so well enough to speak directly to a casual onlooker even today.
Munch was born to Cathrine and Christian Munch at the small place of Løten in Hedmark, but the family soon moved to Norway's capital, Christiania. His childhood was marked by death and disease. He lost his mother at the age of five and his sister when he was fourteen, both to tuberculosis. Edvard himself suffered from chronic asthmatic bronchitis and had to spend much time at home, where he received large parts of his schooling and taught himself how to draw.
According to his father's wishes he started studying to at the Technical College in Christiania. The young man was still frequently ill and experienced long interruptions in his education. Also, he didn't particularly want to become an engineer. In November 1880, he made a highly important choice. 'Min bestemmelse er nu nemlig at blive maler' - My decision is now to become a painter.
Munch enrolled at the Royal School of Art and Design where he stayed for about a year. He preferred to manage his own development and joined several colleagues in renting an atelière and earned both respect and criticism from established painters of the time. In 1883 he exhibited his first painting.
The year 1885 was important for the artist at a personal level. He had his first journey abroad, exhibiting at the Salon in Antwerp, and he fell deeply in love for the first time. His feelings for Milly Thaulow, a young married woman, gave him little rest, but instead several moral qualms to make up for it. The following year he became involved with the Bohemian movement of Christiania, led by Hans Jæger. Although he wasn't directly involved in their scandalous lifestyle, they taught him how to use his own life as inspiration for his art.
After his first solo exhibition, in 1889, Munch received a government grant to study model drawing in Paris. While he was there, his father died. The artist, unable to go home for the funeral, instead sank into deep melancholy. This was lifted from him at a visit to Montagnes Russes, an establishment which seemed to be filled with light, joy, and tobacco smoke. That was when he decided he wanted to paint people who lived, rather than people who sat still or just posed.
The painter received grants for three years, living in France in the winter and in Norway during summer. He felt most at home in a small place by the fjord of Oslo called Åsgårdstrand. Here he had been earlier with his family, and when he had the money he bought himself a little house where he spent every summer for about twenty years.
A Norwegian painter living in Berlin, Adelsteen Normann, invited Munch to exhibit his paintings there. The exhibition took place in November, 1892. It was met by a storm of protests and was closed after a week. The objections were raised mostly against his painting style, but Munch's paintings had received the shiny hue of being banned, and so he became quite well known. He got many friends in the Berlin Bohemian circle and spent four winters in the city. Later German expressionists would be greatly inspired by him, and the Nazi governement would be deeply offended by his degenerate art.
Having reached success with his paintings, Munch started experimenting with other ways of art, such as etchings, lithographs, and woodcuts. As the technique of photography became available, Munch also used that, mostly to aid his other work. As time went by, the cries of outrage became less audible and he gained full recognition as an artist.
But luck and fortune was not meant to be for Edvard Munch. Another death struck when his younger brother Andreas died in 1895. The painter was also stricken by love, however, when he met Mathilde 'Tulla' Larsen a few years later. Their relationship lasted for a couple of years, but met a violent end when at one point Munch was shot in his left hand during an argument. It was an accident, yet he always ascribed the blame to her.
He suffered nervous troubles after the breakup, and while he pursued his artistic success, he also had severe psychological problems, for example paranoia. All his life Munch had been troubled by various obsessions, such as alcoholism, which broke down his body, and gambling, which depleted his wealth. In 1908 a friend finally persuaded him to receive treatment at a clinique in Copenhagen. He stayed here for eight months, still working on his art.
After this Munch returned to Norway, and stayed near the sea, away from Christiania. His pictures became happier and brighter, even though they still often dealt with existensial problems. He finally settled at Ekely, a villa just outside the city. There he stayed until the end of his days, preferring the company of his animals to that of his family. He lived to experience great fame and respect, but preferred to stay away from the great exhibitions, preferring to work more on his art instead.
Munch's most famous works
The Sick Child (1885)
The Scream (1893)
Death in the Sickroom (1893)
The Dance of Life (1899-1900)
The Sun (1912)
See them at http://www.museumsnett.no/munchmuseet