Art History

Happy Birthday Edvard Munch

Happy Birthday to Edvard Munch, born December 12th 1863!  As I was researching for today’s post, I quickly realized how little I knew about Edvard Munch’s life and the depth of his art.  He’s most known for his painting “The Scream” but his catalog of art is much greater than this colorful piece of expressionism.

Self-Portrait, Edvard Munch, 1882
Self-Portrait with Pastel Stick, Edvard Munch, 1943

Early Life & Tragedy

Edvard Munch was born in Norway in 1863 and raised in Christiania (present day Oslo), Norway.  He was the second of five children.  He experienced tragedy and illness as a child, with his mother dying when he was five years old and his older sister a few years after, both from tuberculosis.  He also suffered from Tuberculosis as a child but survived the illness.  

Munch and his remaining siblings were raised by their father.  Munch said of his father, “My father was temperamentally nervous and obsessively religious—to the point of psychoneurosis. From him I inherited the seeds of madness. The angels of fear, sorrow, and death stood by my side since the day I was born.”

His family misfortune continued through young adulthood.  One of Munch’s younger sisters was institutionalized for mental illness most of her life.  His younger brother died suddenly from pneumonia at age 30.  His father died in 1889.  Only one sibling lived to old age with him.  

Edvard Munch the Artist

As a boy, Munch was often ill and spent many winters at home, drawing to pass the time.  Early in his artistic career he was part of the Kristiania Bohème, which was a circle of writers and artists in Kristiania.  In the Kristiania Bohème he studied with Naturalist painter Christian Krohg. 

In 1889, Munch took a trip to Paris where he was heavily influenced by the work of the French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.  He began to adopt the brushstrokes and colors of these styles into his work.  From 1892 to 1908, Munch split his time between Paris and Berlin.

Style & Themes

Edvard Munch explored styles of Naturalism, Impressionism, and Expressionism throughout his long career.  Edvard Munch’s style later became part of the Symbolism art movement.  Symbolism believed that art should reflect an emotion or idea rather than represent an objective view of the natural world.

Munch’s upbringing had a great influence in his work.  Many of Munch’s pieces of art explore human emotions – often with themes of anguish, grief, and loneliness.  

The Sick Child, Edvard Munch, 1885-1886

In this painting he depicts his sister Sophie’s illness and death.  He named this painting as his first masterpiece that he painted and revisited this painting creating multiple versions throughout his lifetime.

Melancholy, Edvard Munch, 1894-1896
The Voice, Edvard Munch, 1893

Edvard Munch’s most famous painting is “The Scream” – which is actually a series of two oil paintings and two pastel drawings that he completed over multiple years.  He was inspired by a scene that he encountered – Munch wrote an entry in his diary titled “Nice 22 January 1892”:

One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord – the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream.

Despair, Edvard Munch, 1892
The Scream, Edvard Munch, 1893
Despair, Edvard Munch, 1894

Munch suffered from alcoholism and admitted himself into a private sanitarium after experiencing auditory hallucinations and partial paralysis.  After a brief stay, he returned to Norway in 1909.  The artwork that he created during the remaining decades of his life was overall more positive, depicting the landscapes of Norway and local farm life.

The Road to Borre, Edvard Munch, 1905
Winter Landscape Elgersburg, Edvard Munch, 1906
Starry Night, Edvard Munch, 1922

Death & Legacy

Edvard Munch passed away at the age of 80 on January 23, 1944 in Ekely, Norway.  Upon his death authorities discovered a collection of 1,008 paintings, 4,443 drawings and 15,391 prints, as well as woodcuts, etchings, lithographs, lithographic stones, woodcut blocks, copperplates and photographs.  

He left this extensive collection of his artwork to the Norwegian government who later built the Munch Museum of Art in 1963.  The museum, located in Olso, Norway celebrates the work and life of Edvard Munch.

Resources & Further Learning

If you enjoyed learning more about this artist, I encourage you to check out more of his paintings and research more in-depth articles about his life and work.

  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Edvard-Munch
  • https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/edvard-munch-beyond-the-scream-111810150/
  • https://www.biography.com/artist/edvard-munch
  • edvardmunch.org/biography.jsp
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_paintings_by_Edvard_Munch

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