Art Styles in 20th century Art Map


Edvard Munch







Paris and Berlin

Munch left Norway for the first time in 1885 to spend three weeks in Paris, a trip he owed to the generosity of his father's friend, the painter Frits Thaulow, who was one of the first to notice the young artist's talent, and who himself settled in Paris in 1896.
During his brief stay in Paris, Munch discovered not only the Louvre but also all the painters whose recent demonstrations had posed a serious challenge to official art. In 1885 the Impressionists were on the eve of their eighth and last exhibition. As in the case of Van Gogh, for whom they provided a decisive stimulus the following year, their works caused Munch to reconsider the problem of color. A change appeared in his painting from the date of his return to Christiania. The fact is that he now began to be in full command of himself.
From this period of 1885-1886 dates his first masterpiece, The Sick Child, an evocation of his feeling for his sister Sophie. He produced five versions of this subject; one is in the Nasjonalgalleriet in Oslo, another in the Tate Gallery in London, while the face alone, seen in profile against the pillow, was to reappear some ten years later in a drawing, an etching, and a lithograph. Munch's feelings had never before been expressed with such delicacy in the manner of applying his strokes of color to the canvas. There is nothing Expressionist about this painting; on the contrary, the muted poetic resonance of the vision of the young girl originates in a certain lack of precision in the drawing and a chaste abstention from any expression of feeling. The painter owes to Impressionism this freedom of treatment and subjective independence of color in relation to the form. «My work on The Sick Child» , he wrote in connection with this picture, «cleared new paths for me, and opened a total breakthrough for my art. Most of my later works owe their origin to this painting.»


The Sick Child


The same freedom is seen in two other paintings dating from 1885, A Dance (private collection, Oslo) and Tete-d-Tete. In the latter painting a woman's face is visible through the veil of smoke rising from a pipe — a homey image whose delicacy is not always as wonderfully well expressed in the painter's work. It is strange to find that in this style, a direct outgrowth of Impressionism, Munch has made use of a palette of colors much darker than that of any Impressionist.










In the succeeding years, however, he turned away from this kind of dreamy vagueness that gives his paintings their profound charm. In 1889, the year of his first one-man exhibition of 110 works in Christiania, he painted a series of pictures in which he attempted to establish an intimate relationship between a figure and its surrounding decor, whether a domestic interior or a landscape. The natural austerity of Munch's temperament is evident in the solemnity of the faces, but it has not yet become dramatic in nature. Silence, solitude, expectancy, and reverie are, as it were, caressed by the grace of a detail, a delicate lighting, a muted atmosphere.
In Spring, one of the most representative paintings in this series, two women in dark clothes are seated in front of a window through which white voile curtains, puffed out by a slight breeze, are filtering the daylight. All the freshness of the northern spring is contained in this pale clarity that envelops the flowers placed on the window ledge. The two women, however, are still dressed in winter clothes. The distance that separates them from the window, the left side of the painting fram the right, and shadow from light, contains the essential significance of the scene: the patient expectancy of two spectators before what is as yet only a promise of the arrival of summer.


 National Gallery, Oslo



In An Evening Chat (Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen) the landscape seems to be guarding the couple's tryst, while in Inger on the Shore (Rasmus Meyer Collection, Bergen) it seems to give full measure to the young girl's solitude. These landscapes are not backgrounds installed behind portraits; rather, they are an extension into space of the spirit that constitutes the very nature of a meeting (a tryst) or a solitary reverie. Throughout his life Munch was concerned with imparting the echo of a cosmic meditation to his painting.
In this same year of 1889 Munch returned to France on a government scholarship. He remained there until 1892, living first in Paris, then in Saint-Cloud, and later visiting the Riviera. His desire to do serious work led him to choose as his teacher Leon Bonnat, the most serious — and most boring — of the official painters. Undoubtedly Munch was not impressed by his teacher's instruction, since'he spent only four months in his studio. His discovery of various artistic movements that were very active in this year of the Universal Exhibition was of greater use to him. He was able to view the fourteen canvases by Manet appearing in the Centennial of French Art, the Gauguin works exhibited at the Cafe Volpini, paintings by Monet at the Georges Petit Gallery, the neo-Impressionist canvases of Seurat and his friends, and the debut of the Nabis, with Serusier, Maurice Denis, Bonnard, Vuillard, Ranson, and others.
The very diverse tendencies represented by all these painters were to exert a more or less direct, but nevertheless temporary, influence on Munch. The most obvious influence is that of neo-Impressionism, which contributed its small, close strokes to several works he painted in 1891, although he did not rigorously apply the pointillist method. It is particularly evident in Rue de Rivoli  page, Rue Lafayette, and Spring Day on Karl Johan Street (Bergen Billedgalleri).
These, however, are merely superficial technical experiments. For Munch the matter of supreme importance, ranking even before the solution of the conflicting problems raised by the various styles of painting, was the subject of the painting: the what of painting will determine the how of painting. At Saint-Cloud, in 1889, he wrote in his diary with a kind of mystical fervor:
«We shall paint no more interiors with men reading or women knitting. They must be living beings who breathe, feel, suffer, and love. I shall paint a series of such paintings, and people will realize their religious nature and remove their hats before them, just as they do in church.», her point-blank before turning it upon himself. Duchna's end, like everything concerning the relationship between love and death, had profound and enduring repercussions on Munch's thought and work.




Rue Lafayette



Spring Day on Karl Johann




The theme of womanhood

It is obvious that this Berlin period, whose way of life Munch sought, upon his return to Norway, to find to some extent in the artistic circle known in Christiania as «Bohemia,» exerted a decisive influence on the painter's accession to his true personality. The paintings of 1893 are proof of this. First came The Scream, which we have already discussed and in which Munch completely departed from all his earlier styles of painting. Now liberated from any academic precision of draftsmanship, he was interested only in the movement of color as a means of emphasizing the dramatic character of the subject. Here he discovered a style that he was to repeat in Madonna.
She is, to tell the truth, a strange madonna: a female nude whose mournful face is thrown back, and whose hair falls over her shoulders, while an orange circle forms a kind of halo around her head. Munch's ideological ambiguity concerning woman is openly expressed in this painting. Sometimes a virgin, at other times the incarnation of sin, in Madonna she appears as a synthesis of the painter's mystical and erotic urges. As early as 1893, in a drawing that he titled Madonna, a woman's face had appeared in profile in the center of a circular area reminiscent of a nimbus. Despite the sensuality of the line, the nudity was chaste. In one of five later versions of this subject, however, drawn on stone in 1895 and metamorphosed into a color lithograph in 1902, he makes the meaning of the picture crudely clear. This time the same female torso with its shining flesh is framed by tears of sperm, while a fetus is placed in one corner of the composition. Its subtitle is Ideal Representation of the Moment of Conception.












Study for Madonna




It is significant that in this same year of 1894 Munch painted two pictures in which the theme of womanhood is treated in two different aspects that for him are like the twin poles of a physiological and spiritual evolution. The first one is entitled Puberty, and shows a little girl seated naked on her bed, an anxious question written across her face. In the second, Vampire, a man bends over to bury his face in the bosom of the woman holding him in her arms, while she too bends forward to bite him in the nape of the neck. This image of woman as desired and feared, seductive and destructive, is at the heart of the anxieties that made Munch for a long time the victim of his personal hell. In this he bears a strong resemblance to Strindberg, whose misogyny, encouraged by his marital disappointments and complicated, as in Munch's case, by constant ambivalence, caused him to depict woman in his writings as Madonna and as Vampire.
In an 1894 engraving, Harpy, Munch repeated this theme in another form in which the harpy, half woman and half bird, stands over the cadaver of a man. He later composed a lithograph, Poison Flower, as an illustration for the fable Alpha and Omega, in which the flower at the top of its stalk is a trefoil female head. In many of his drawings and engravings, too, we find a woman accompanied by a skeleton. In a watercolor of 1896-1897 entitled In the Cemetery, and somewhat reminiscent of the features of the Madonna and her halo, a woman walks among the graves, while a tiny skeleton, similarly haloed and bearing two arrows, the symbols of love, appears near her.

















Maiden and Death

Here we should perhaps establish a distinction between two aspects of Munch's mental life that at a certain point are superimposed in his artistic creation. On the one hand, woman is depicted as the instrument of man's destruction, and as having deadly power over him. On the other hand, the apparently very strong duality of his life instinct and his death instinct caused him to conceive a kind of successful union between Eros and Thanatos, expressed in an etching of 1894, Maiden and Death, in which
we see a beautiful young female nude and a skeleton, in standing position, tenderly embracing.
Munch personally appears in this iconography of woman whom he regards as a being to be feared. In 1893, in his Self-Portrait under Female Mask, he depicts himself with a face set in an expression of sadness, fear, and disgust. The woman's face above him is a terrifying sight, with its oversized mouth and immense, coallike eyes. As always, however, this woman is simultaneously deadly and desired. That same year, in his picture entitled Hands, he painted a female nude surrounded by hands stretching out toward her. Two years later he created a lithograph version, subtitled Lust toward Woman. These hands in truth resemble flames, but are they devouring or purifying? They reappear around 1895 in his self-portrait In Hell, an irresistible plunge by Munch into his own depths and torments, which left him with a fondness for exploring and translating into paint the torments and troubles of other people and of humanity as a whole. In this he resembles Ibsen, who has one of the characters in The Wild Duck say, «It is good to plunge occasionally into the dark side of life.»








The Beast



Desnudo de espalda



Desnudo parisino



Muchacha bostezando



Model by the Wicker Chair



The Hands

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