Edvard Munch - painted the human condition

Updated: May 15

Edvard Munch, the famous Norwegian artist, he was obsessed with the themes of fear, death and suffering, loneliness and despair. A profoundly disturbed man, Munch spent much of his energy and genius striving to convey, the fear frustration to him which were integral aspects of the human condition.


Much of his art is concerned with the loneliness of the soul and the relationship between the sexes. He saw man and woman separated by a cruel fate - embracing but always alone, each a world unto themselves. He used an eccentric line, distorted figures, and strident colours to express the turmoil that he faced in his own life. A statement attributed to him - "I hear the scream in nature" - is an indication of his dark view of the world.


This belief he expressed perfectly in "The Lonely Ones," in which he had depicted a woman and a man standing apart, solitary figures, looking out to sea. The very simplicity of the composition, as much as its superior execution, produces an almost overwhelming mood of melancholy.

Two People: The Lonely Ones by Edvard Munch

Often he is haunted by death. He lost his mother when he was 5, and his favourite sister later, both victims of tuberculosis. His grief found expression years later in the drypoint, "The Sick Child." "The Death Chamber" is filled with the dense blackness of gloom. It is one of his great masterpieces.


The Sick Child, a drypoint by Edvard Munch

Another is his conception of woman as he sees her in three stages of her development. The first, as a virgin, second as a fertile female, and, third as a black-garbed mystic. In "Nude with Red Hair" he portrays a pensive green-eyed siren, her expression impenetrable as the Spinx. He was tormented by both an erotic fascination with and an emotional dread of women.

Because Munch's art is so overwhelmingly personal, it is easy to overlook the immense technical achievements of his art. His mastery of graphic media was superb, and his total graphic output represents an enormous contribution to modern printmaking.

Munch was strongly influenced by literature, and he befriended many writers, including some of the leading literary figures of the times such as Strindberg, Ibsen and Mallarme.



The Scream by Edvard Munch

Munch's The Scream exemplifies his style. The image - a man, standing on a bridge or a jetty in a landscape- comes from the real world. Still, Munch's treatment of it departs significantly from visual reality. The Scream evokes a dramatic visceral response of anxiety from the viewer because of Munch's dramatic presentation. The cry of the man seems to resonate into the background of the painting.


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