Edvard Munch  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Edvard Munch (December 12, 1863 – January 23, 1944) was a Norwegian Symbolist painter, printmaker, best known for The Scream (1893) and one of the pieces in a series titled The Frieze of Life, in which Munch explored the themes of life, love, fear, death, and melancholy.

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Frieze of Life — A Poem about Life, Love and Death

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. "Frieze of Life" motifs such as The Storm and Moonlight are steeped in atmosphere. Other motifs illuminate the nocturnal side of love, such as Rose and Amelie and Vampire. In Death in the Sickroom, the subject is the death of his sister Sophie, which he re-did in many future variations. The dramatic focus of the painting, portraying his entire family, is dispersed in a series of separate and disconnected figures of sorrow. In 1894, he enlarged the spectrum of motifs by adding Anxiety, Ashes, Madonna and Women in Three Stages (from innocence to old age).

Around the turn of the century, Munch worked to finish the "Frieze". He painted a number of pictures, several of them in larger format and to some extent featuring the Art Nouveau aesthetics of the time. He made a wooden frame with carved reliefs for the large painting Metabolism (1898), initially called Adam and Eve. This work reveals Munch's preoccupation with the "fall of man" myth and his pessimistic philosophy of love. Motifs such as The Empty Cross and Golgotha (both c. 1900) reflect a metaphysical orientation, and also echo Munch's pietistic upbringing. The entire Frieze showed for the first time at the secessionist exhibition in Berlin in 1902.

"The Frieze of Life" themes recur throughout Munch's work but find their strongest outpouring in the mid-1890s. In sketches, paintings, pastels and prints, he taps the depths of his feelings to examine his major motifs: the stages of life, the femme fatale, the hopelessness of love, anxiety, infidelity, jealousy, sexual humiliation, and separation in life and death. These themes find expression in paintings such as The Sick Child (1885), Love and Pain (1893–94), Ashes (1894), and The Bridge. The latter shows limp figures with featureless or hidden faces, over which loom the threatening shapes of heavy trees and brooding houses. Munch portrayed women either as frail, innocent sufferers (see Puberty and Love and Pain) or as the cause of great longing, jealousy and despair (see Separation, Jealousy and Ashes).

Munch often uses shadows and rings of color around his figures to emphasize an aura of fear, menace, anxiety, or sexual intensity. These paintings have been interpreted as reflections of the artist's sexual anxieties, though it could also be argued that they are a better representation of his turbulent relationship with love itself and his general pessimism regarding human existence. Munch admitted to the personal goals of his work but he also offered his art to a wider purpose, "My art is really a voluntary confession and an attempt to explain to myself my relationship with life—it is, therefore, actually a sort of egoism, but I am constantly hoping that through this I can help others achieve clarity."

Still attracting strongly negative reactions, in the 1890s Munch did begin to receive some understanding of his artistic goals, as one critic wrote, "With ruthless contempt for form, clarity, elegance, wholeness, and realism, he paints with intuitive strength of talent the most subtle visions of the soul." One of his great supporters in Berlin was Walter Rathenau, later the German foreign minister, who greatly contributed to his success.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Edvard Munch" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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