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Artist in Focus : Edvard Munch

In this section for Art From Us, we pick one artist to showcase their work and creative journey so far. Today, we look at Edvard Munch.

Early Life

The haunting image of the scream emitted by the face against a murky background, has come to be regarded as a social symbol of turbulent times. Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’, has been talked about, shared widely and has a huge presence outside the art world. The scream that he is recognised most for, is just one from the repertoire of this prolific artist.

Edvard Munch was born in 1863, in a rustic farmhouse in the village of Adalsbruk, located in Loten, Norway. Unfortunately, Munch grew up in a time that was still fighting life threatening tuberculosis and other life-threatening illnesses. He lost his Mother and sister at an early age to consumption. And his brother to pneumonia. His father a Christian fundamentalist – viewed these as Divine acts of punishment. This scarred and altered the experience of Munch’s early life.

Significant Works

The young Munch processed these tragic events and later they found an outlet in his work in the evocative depictions of vulnerability, emotional suffering and anxiety. These life events became the fuel for his imagination and perhaps how he continued to work out all that he had witnessed growing up. And moreover all that he was subject to by his fathers strict upbringing.

In 1879, Munch attended a technical college to study engineering, perhaps he was encouraged his father to a professional channel. His passion for art overtook and he left only a year later. He enrolled at the Royal School of Art and Design in 1881.

Notably, one of his earliest works – The Sick Child, set the bar for his later works and he regarded it as a breakthrough. The painting was dedicated to his deceased sister Sophie, representing her as she lay ailing. Munch’s figures are hazy, his colour palette dark, only the face of the girl is illuminated. It was evident that his works bore the marks of deep personal investment.

Another significant painting Night in St. Cloud , representative of his relationship with his father. The cold blue room overtaken by shadows. Munch was influenced by other post impressionists of his time, namely Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gough. His brush strokes were passionate and each one told the story of the storm that incessantly raged within him.  

The Irony

Munch is synonymous and lauded for his famous post-impressionist Scream, however, he was the progenitor of some of the most revolutionary artworks. All of which were discovered after his death.

There was a collection of whopping 1,008 paintings alone and over 4,443 drawings and 15,391 prints. This aside, there were woodcuts, etchings, lithographs, lithographic stones, woodcut blocks, copperplates and photographs

Upon his death in 1944, at the age of 80, the authorities discovered—behind locked doors on the second floor of his house—. Yet in a final irony of his difficult life, Munch is famous today as the creator of a single image, which has obscured his overall achievement as a pioneering and influential painter and printmaker.

Munch endeavoured to record a synthesis between the subject as observed by him, his circumstances, juxtaposed by his own psychological and emotional perceptions. The intense colours, the mysterious element – that is predominant in his work, point towards a universal symbolism that is emergent in his artistic vocabulary.

Munch never got married, though he believed in sexual liberalism, as an extension to his creative impulse, regarded his painting as his children. The losses that he suffered in his life, his beloved mother and siblings haunted him and he remained attached to his work. Munch enjoyed the success of his work, commercially. But he struggled with alcoholism, psychosis and suffered ill health.

He died in 1944, in his country home in Ekley, Olso.

To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit Artwork in Focus.

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