Edvard Munch – Norwegian Painter and Artist, Psychological Themes, and Painting The Scream
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Edvard Munch (12 December 1863 — 23 January 1944) was a Norwegian painter and printmaker whose intensely evocative treatment of psychological themes built upon some of the main tenets of late 19th-century Symbolism and greatly influenced German Expressionism in the early 20th century. One of his most well-known works is The Scream of 1893.
Edvard Munch was born in a rustic farmhouse in the village of Ådalsbruk in Løten, to Christian Munch, the son of a priest. Christian was a doctor and medical officer who married Laura Catherine Bjølstad, a woman half his age, in 1861. Edvard had an elder sister, Johanne Sophie (born 1862), and three younger siblings: Peter Andreas (born 1865), Laura Catherine (born 1867), and Inger Marie (born 1868). Both Sophie and Edvard appear to have inherited their artistic talent from their mother. Edvard Munch was related to painter Jacob Munch (1776–1839) and historian Peter Andreas Munch (1810–1863).
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”, and his neighbors reacted bitterly and sent him anonymous letters. In contrast to his father’s rabid pietism, Munch adopted an undogmatic stance toward art, writing in his diary his simple goal: “in my art I attempt to explain life and its meaning to myself.”
Munch arrived in Paris during the festivities of the Exposition Universelle (1889) and roomed with two fellow Norwegian artists. His picture, Morning (1884), was displayed at the Norwegian pavilion. He spent his mornings at Bonnat’s busy studio (which included live female models) and afternoons at the exhibition, galleries, and museums (where students were to make copies). Munch recorded little enthusiasm for Bonnat’s drawing lessons—”It tires and bores me—it’s numbing”—but enjoyed the master’s commentary during museum trips.
By 1892 in Berlin, Munch formulated his characteristic, and original, Synthetist aesthetic, as seen in Melancholy (1891), in which color is the symbol-laden element. In 1892, Adelsteen Normann, on behalf of the Union of Berlin Artists, invited Munch to exhibit at its November exhibition, the society’s first one-man exhibition. However, his paintings evoked bitter controversy (dubbed “The Munch Affair”) and after one week the exhibition closed. Munch was pleased with the “great commotion”, and wrote in a letter: “Never have I had such an amusing time—it’s incredible that something as innocent as painting should have created such a stir.”
The Scream exists in four versions: two pastels (1893 and 1895) and two paintings (1893 and 1910). There are also several lithographs of The Scream (1895 and later).
The 1895 pastel sold at auction on 2 May 2012 for US$119,922,500, including commission. It is the most colorful of the versions and is distinctive for the downward-looking stance of one of its background figures. It is also the only version not part of the collection of a Norwegian museum.
The 1910 painting was stolen in 2004, from The Munch Museum in Oslo, but recovered in 2006 with limited damage. The 1893 version was likewise stolen and recovered from the National Gallery in Oslo in 1994.
The Scream is Munch’s most famous work and one of the most recognizable paintings in all art. It 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.