Self Portrait Edvard Munch
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Articles > Scholastic Art (Sep-Oct 1996) - Article #3

The pain of love. (influence of Edvard Munch's personal life on his work)

Munch linked love with death in his life and art. The two women closest to him, his mother and sister, had died when he was young. And he had had several disastrous affairs, one somehow ending with the artist shooting off one of his fingers. In 1892, Munch began a series of paintings on the subject of love. He called it The Frieze of Life, "a poem of life, love, and death."

In the first work (left to right, top to bottom) The Voice, a woman stands in the moonlight on a summer night waiting for love. (Munch later wrote that this image was based on his first childhood romance. He had to stand on a hill to look into the eyes of a much taller girl). The vertical trees express the woman’s tension. She finds love in The Kiss—the two faces become one shape, but then she betrays the man and runs off with someone else. In Melancholy, the man broods under a sky filled with gathering clouds. Land and sea blend together until, in the final image—The Scream—the figure and backgound become one anguished swirl. A swooping diagonal pulls the viewer into the picture and increases the feeling of anxiety.

When this series was first shown, the images so outraged critics and the public that the exhibit was closed after a week. One critic called the paintings "visions of a sick brain." Another dismissed them entirely, saying, "There is nothing to be said about Munch’s pictures. They have absolutely no connection with art!"

Munch continued to paint his themes—love, betrayal, and death—for the rest of his life, at times combining them all in one picture. In The Dance of Life (pages 8-9), the young girl in white on the left reaches out toward life. The central woman in red lives life while she can, and the older woman on the right stands with clenched hands gazing at the center couple. The grinning masklike fig’ ure in back clutching a girl in white suggests traditional Scandinavian images of Death dancing with a young girl.

As the new century went on, Munch’s work gained recognition. But as the artist said, "My fame is increasing, but happiness is another thing." In 1908, one of his increasingly frequent "nerve crises" ended in a breakdown and he was treated at a clinic. The artist continued to paint, but no longer sold his work. He thought of his paintings as his family, and wanted them with him since, as he put it, "I have no one else." Munch died peacefully in his home in 1944.

Scholastic Art, Sep-Oct 1996 v27 n1 p6(2).



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