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Mr. Burgher's Art Facts

Edvard Munch

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Edvard Munch: Dec. 12,1863-Jan. 23,1944...Norway

"I would not cast off my illness, for there is much in my art that I owe it."
~Edvard Munch

The one to get Norway on the art map was a great innovator in the visual arts, Edvard Munch. Born the second of five kids in LÝten, Norway to a father, Christian, that was a medical doctor. The family moved to Oslo in 1864. His mother, Laura, died of tuberculosis when Munch was only five. A fate that was also met by his older sister Sophie when she was fifteen (he was only a year younger). Another sister was diagnosed with a mental illness around this time. Munch was also sick quite often and also is believed to have suffered from a bipolar disorder. He needed an escape from his home reality. "From the moment of my birth, the angels of anxiety, worry, and death stood at my side, followed me out when I played, followed me in the sun of springtime and in the glories of summer. They stood at my side in the evening when I closed my eyes, and intimidated me with death, hell, and eternal damnation. And I would often wake up at night and stare widely into the room: Am I in Hell?" He began his higher education in an engineering program in November of 1879. He would move on to a school of design under sculptor Julius Middelthun and painter Christian Krohg in 1881. Munch was also a devoted student to new art forms in his day, like photography and film. The modest artist he said, "My will exceeds my talents."

After receiving some training in Paris, France, Munch would begin creating some of his most known works. Around 1886, he began painting The Sick Child. He was remembering his sisters death as he work this particular painting. "Painting picture by picture, I followed the impressions my eye took in at heightened moments. I painted only memories, adding nothing, no details that I did not see. Hence the simplicity of the paintings, their emptiness." It is safe to say that this painting was a therapy to help him deal with the death of his sister. Many were critical of the work at first. "It would be quite amusing to preach a bit to all those people who for many years now have been looking at our paintings and either laughed or shook their heads reproachfully. They do not believe that these impressions, these instant sensations, could contain even the smallest grain of sanity. If a tree is red or blue, or a face is blue or green, they are sure that is insanity." He was around a lot of death. Not only the tragic deaths in his family that no doubt affected him, but also the deaths that his father was bringing into his life. Being a doctor, Munch’s father had exposed a lot of death to his young family. When Munch was twenty-three, his father died. He would move to France to work for a four year period.

The Sick Child
1886. Oil on canvas. 47 X 46.6 inches. Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo, Norway.

Although Munch considered The Sick Child the greatest work he ever produced, the general public and the history of art would consider him most known for The Scream. In a career that lasted for fifty-one years after creating the work, sadly, his career has been defined by most based on this work alone. "Nature is not only all that is visible to the eye...it also includes the inner pictures of the soul." There are actually several versions of this painting created by Munch. This work shown his influence by Vincent van Gogh as well as some very strong Romantic elements. The red sky in the work is believed to be an account of the very bright red sunsets that were seen in 1883 after the eruption of the Indonesian volcano, Krakatoa. "I was walking along the road with two friends. The sun set. I felt a tinge of melancholy. Suddenly the sky became a bloody red. I stopped, leaned against the railing, dead tired. And I looked at the flaming clouds that hung like [a] cloak and a sword over the blue-black fjord and city. My friends walked on. I stood there, trembling with fright. And I felt a loud, unending scream piercing nature." This style made him a very respected artist around the world. In fact, after the cultural revolution in China, Munch was the first western artist to have their work placed in the National Gallery in Beijing. Although his paintings are very popular and valuable today, how did he ever think they would be sold for him to make a living in the late 1800s? "When I paint, I never think of selling. People simply fail to understand that we paint in order to experiment and to develop ourselves as we strive for greater heights."

The Scream
1893. Oil, tempera and pastel on cardboard. 35.8 X 28.9 inches. Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo, Norway.

After joining the Der Blaue Reiter and Dresden for various periods in his career he also took some time to get involved in a love affair. He met Tulla Larsen late in 1898. She was thirty and was considered an old maid based upon the standards of the day. They took a trip to Italy and France that left Tulla less than satisfied with the relationship. In 1902 she came to him with horrible news. She told Munch she was dying. She knew how much death was in his past and wanted to spare him the pain of seeing her dye. He refused to leave her side. She soon admitted it was a lie, she was not dying, but she wanted out of the relationship. He wanted to keep it going. She pulled a gun and threatened suicide. Munch tried to get the gun from her, but the gun fired. He was hit. It was a shot in joint of one of the fingers on his left hand. He would be plagued by anxiety, nervous breakdowns, heavy drinking, and depression. After several other close family members died, in 1937, eighty-two of his works that were owned by German museums were considered "degenerate" by Adolph Hitler. They were confiscated and sold. In 1940, Norway was occupied by Germany. Munch refused to associate with any of the Nazis and was very concerned with the safety of his "children": his paintings. His outspoken anti-Nazi nature won him much respect with the Americans, which gave him is first show in the USA in 1942 (the same year they entered World War II). He continued to work but was very reserved from most people. He died peacefully, shortly after his eightieth birthday in 1944, during a bout with pneumonia. "From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity." All of his personal art (1,008 paintings, 15,391 prints, 4,443 drawings and watercolors, and six sculptures) was left to the city of Oslo. The city opened a museum in his honor, Munch-Museet, in 1963: the day that would have been Munch‘s one-hundredth birthday.

munch.jpg
The Sick Child

Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063