Edvard Munch Biography

In Brief
Born in Loten. 12 December 1863. Died in Oslo. 23 January 1944. Pupil of Christian Krohg, and at the Royal School of Drawing. Oslo, 1881; studied under Leon Bonnat in Paris, 1889-96; exhibited from 1883. including one scandalous exhibition in Berlin. 1892; many graphic works; lived in Berlin and Paris until nervous breakdown brought him back to Norway, 1909; frescoes for Oslo University Festival Hall completed 1913; lived in Ekely, near Oslo, from 1916.

Major Collections:
Bergen: Rasmus Meyers Samlinger. Bergen Bildegalleri; Oslo. Munch Museum, National Gallery.
Other Collections:
Basel; Berlin; Boston; Cologne; Copenhagen; Hamburg; Helsinko; London: Tate; Moscow; Minneapolis; Moscow; Oslo: Rathaus. University; Paris: d'Orsay; Prague; Stockholm; Washington; Zurich.
Publications:
By MUNCH: books- Brev. Familien, edited by Inger Munch. Oslo, 1949.
Briefwechsel 1902-1928, with Max Linde, edited by Gustav Liedtke. Lubeck, 1974.
On MUNCH: books— Schiefler, Gustav, Verzeichnis des graphischen Werks Munchs, Berlin, 2 vols., 1907-28.
Stenersen. Rolf, Munch: Naarbild ar ett geni, Stockholm, 1944; as Munch: Close-Up of a Genius, Oslo, 1969.
Willoch, Sigurd, Munch Etchings, Oslo, 1950.
Deknatel, Frederick B., Munch, (cat), Boston, 1950.
Kokoschka, Oskar. Der Expressionismus Munchs, Vienna, 1953.
Madsen, Stephan, An Introduction to Munch 's Wall Paintings in the Oslo University Aula, Oslo, 1959.
Langaard, Johan H., and Reidar Revold, Munch: The University- Murals, Graphic Art, and Paintings, Oslo, 1960.
Langaard, Johan H., and Reidar Revold, Munch fra ar kil ar/ A Year by Year Record of the Artist's Life, Oslo, 1961.
Smith, John Boulton, Munch, Berlin, 1962, Oxford, 1977.
Langaard, Johan H., and Reidar Revold, Munch: Mesterverker i Munch-Museet, Oslo, 1963; as Munch: Masterpieces from the Artist's Collection in the Munch Museum in Oslo, New York, 1964.
Timm, Werner, Munch: Graphik, Braunschweig, 1969; as The Graphic Art of Munch, Greenwich. Connecticut, 1969.
Hodin, Josef Paul, Munch, New York and London 1972.
Bock, Henning, and Giinter Busch, editors. Munch: Probleme, Forschungen, Thesen, Munich, 1973.
Heller, Reinhold, Munch: The Scream, New York, 1973.
Selz, Jean, Munch, Naefels and New York, 1974.
Munch (cat), Paris and London, 1974.
Stang, Ragna, Munch: Mennesket og kunstneren, Oslo, 1977; as Munch: The Man and His Art, New York, 1979.
Eggum, Arne, The Masterworks of Munch (cat). New York, 1979.
Werner, Alfred, Graphic Works of Munch, New York, 1979.
Weisner, Ulrich, Munch: Liebe, Angst, Tod: Themen und Variationen: Zeichnungen und Graphiken aus dem Munch-Museum, Oslo (cat), Bielefeld, 1980.
Dittmann, Reidar, Eros and Psyche: Strindberg and Munch in the 1890s. Ann Arbor, 1982.
Eggum, Ame, Munch: Malerier, Skisser, og studier, Oslo, 1983; as Munch: Paintings, Sketciies, and Studies, New York, 1984.
Prelinger. Elizabeth. Munch, Master Printmaker, New York, 1983.
Heller, Reinhold, Munch: His Life and Work, London, 1984.
Smith, John Boulton, Frederick Delius and Munch: The Friednship and Correspondence, Rickmansworth, 1985.
Lippincott, Louise, Munch: Starrx Night, Santa Monica, 1988.

The Art
Although born in central Norway far from the sea and growing up in the heart of Oslo—then called Kristiania— Edvard Munch was soon drawn to the shores of the fjord that gradually opens up to the world beyond. In childhood summers and in adult years he spent holidays in villages along these shores whose soft contours and lingering twilight nights are featured in so many of his paintings. Somehow, this modest, subdued landscape, so radically different from the drama of the west coast, became a recuperative haven for this artist whose principal contribution to modern painting is his bold depiction of the emotional agony inherent in the human condition.

Trained in the period of Naturalism — briefly under the guidance of his countryman Christian Krohg—and maturing through his exposure to Manet and the French Impressionists. Munch in turn broke with both movements and developed an art of his own devoted to the uncompromising unveiling of the psychological forces that determine our course from the prenatal stages through death.

His contact with Krohg in the studio and even more so in the avant-garde circle known as the Bohemes tended to free him from the restraint of a family tradition steeped in its consciousness of generations of socio-cultural leadership, while his encounter with the French freed him from the strictures of a traditional approach to the arts. Most decisive for his development, however, was his relentlessly bleak childhood and youth filled with anxiety, sickness, and death, and most of his early, pioneering works, such as Sick Girl, The Scream, Death in the Sickroom, are the result of deliberate efforts at coming to terms with these experiences and thereby ensure his own emotional survival.

From his debut in 1883 until his first exile in 1892 Munch participated in the annual Norwegian autumn salon, and twice, 1889 and 1892, he mounted his own one-man shows. With some rare exceptions critics viewed his efforts with blatant scorn, one calling them " 'art-of-the-future' absurdities," then noting that some—referring to certain other artists— actually found these absurdities to make sense: "Of course! For there is no earthly beauty or truth that cannot be twisted into its own caricature, and there is no madness or inanity in this world that some fool or other won't eagerly admire."

Among these fools was a Norwegian artist residing in Berlin, Adelsteen Normann, who arranged for a Munch exhibit in the Prussian capital; and in the autumn of 1892 Munch set out for Berlin, certain to find a more sophisticated and receptive art public. In that respect Berlin did not live up to his expectations, for no sooner had the exhibit opened than it was closed by city authorities "in the name of decency and proper art" Yet the ensuing controversy, der Fall Munch as it was called in the German press, focused attention on the young artists and paved the way for new opportunities. It is therefore entirely appropriate to consider this particular event Edvard Munch's artistic breakthrough.

Of the many whose company inspired him in his two years in Berlin the most important were August Strindberg. the Swedish dramatist whose extreme misogynist views are clearly discernible in several canvases, most notably Self-Portrait under a Female Mask and Self-Portrait in Hell; Stanislaw Przybyszewski, the Polish writer and critic who produced the first book-length study on Munch; and Dagny Juell, the Norwegian cultural activist whose sensitive features can be seen in Madonna, The Hands, and other works, and who remained the single most influential woman in Munch's life.

Many of his most crucial paintings, although often developed from much earlier sketches, were brought to completion in Berlin, among them Puberty, The Day Thereafter, The Scream, Ashes, Woman in Three Stages; and traces of the Berlin experience linger in many subsequent works. While profoundly original there is much in these efforts reminiscent of other artists. Their often grotesque distortions may recall works by Bosch, and therein lies perhaps the critic's reference to absurdities and madness. The anguish that seems to burst out of all control may derive from Goya. Much more apparent, however, than such possible influences from artists of a more remote paste is the obvious indebtedness to Gauguin and Van Gogh. The synthesized, stylized figure composition and radical juxtaposition of pure colours through which Gauguin zooms in on the elemental, primeval emotional quality of his subject, and the twisting and twirling curvilinear sweeps that charge Van Gogh's final canvases with an almost unbearable dynamic tension are also part of Munch's approach to painting. However, his agonized statements extend beyond the deeply personal, subjective expressions of his remote and immediate predecessors and take on the character of passionate interpretations of universal human suffering.

The brooding spirit that permeates his creativity in the 1890's, although never entirely absent, gradually yields to a more positive point of view. In the first decade of the new century he turns to the landscape in its shifting seasons, producing boldly conceived, exuberantly coloured canvases depicting the seething, regenerative energy inherent in planting, growth, and harvest. This creative outpouring reaches its monumental climax is his Oslo University decorations where Mother Earth nurses her young, History links the past and the present, and The Rising Sun floods the Festival Hall with the life-giving primeval light of the Day of Creation.

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