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The Scream

Edvard Munch (1863-1944). The National Gallery – Oslo. 1893.

The Artist’s Sister Inger

The National Gallery – Oslo. 1884.

The Sick Child

The National Gallery – Oslo. 1885-1886.


The National Gallery – Oslo. 1889.

Evening Talk

State Museum of Fine Arts – Copenhagen. 1889.

By the Roulette

The Munch Museum – Oslo. 1892.


The National Gallery – Oslo. 1892.

The Artist’s Sister Inger

The National Gallery – Oslo. 1892.

Dagny Juel Przybyszewska

The Munch Museum – Oslo. 1893.

Death in the Sick Room

The Munch Museum – Oslo. 1893.


The Rasmus Meyers Collection – Bergen. 1895.

Self-portrait in Hell

The Munch Museum – Oslo. 1903.

Self-portrait with a Bottle of Wine

The Munch Museum – Oslo. 1906.

The Death of Marat I

The Munch Museum – Oslo. 1907.

Death Struggle

The Munch Museum – Oslo. 1915.

The Artist and his Model

The Munch Museum – Oslo. 1919-1921.

Sitting Model on a Couch

The Munch Museum – Oslo. 1924.

The Ladies on the Bridge

The Munch Museum – Oslo. 1935.

Under the Chestnut Tree

The Munch Museum – Oslo. 1937.

Self-portrait. Between the Clock and the Bed

The Munch Museum – Oslo. 1940-1942.

The Scream

All texts on the painter Edvard Munch start with ‘The Scream’. The picture is so unavoidable. No other image epitomises more the European twentieth century. It has been called the image of modern man, man in the grip of the horrors of the World Wars, man in the existential fear of the challenges of the new times. And indeed, the change of the century brought upheavals in everything man had known in the previous times. His economy, his ways of living, his religious beliefs, his philosophies, his science, the very speed of change were dauntingly new. One and the same generation had to cope with the advent of radio, television, automobiles, planes, refrigerators, iron warships, plastics, and paved roads, distances that could be spanned in days instead of in months. But he also had to understand the structure of the atom, the limit formed by the speed of light, the big bang theory of the universe. And in a tentative understanding of his own primitive urges, man had to cope with his subconscience.

Confronted by so many challenges and changes, man had to scream to liberate his mind of the threats and to be able to absorb and digest the novelties. Only a scream could do that. Only the people who could scream would survive in this world, could assimilate it and adapt. Some people simply could not scream. Then the rapid times overwhelmed the personality. The challenges stayed and grew in the inner self and slowly but surely destroyed the person. The result would be depression, manic sickness. Tolerance and empathy could be forgotten and wars could and did ensue. Then it was the scream of war

‘The Scream’ is that kind of work. The picture is the visual expression of how the world can vibrate at a scream. All lines oscillate at the same frequency as the sound. All colours of the landscape start to move at the same rhythm as the sounds until the sounds of the scream and the vibrations of the colours become unbearable and are at the point of breaking the figure. No picture like this had been made before, although the French Impressionist painters had brought the transformation of reality very far. ‘The Scream’ was the first painting in which not the eye dominated however, but the very representation of an inner state.

Edvard Munch would continue to do exactly this during the whole of his life. Munch was the first painter of a new generation that led to the total and exclusive expression of subjectivity in art and he had the genius to bring immediately this method as far as it could be taken. The inner self was not just expressed, the new painters also tried to create images that inspired strange inner moods in viewers. This search would continue as it will probably continue forever. It quickly led in one direction to the annihilation of subject matter and to totally abstract painting.

This explanation of ‘The Scream’ is from inside out; the painting is the result of an inner state. There is another explanation however, that proceeds from the outside in. A person who knew Edvard Munch closely for many years has given this explanation: the financier and writer Rolf E. Stenersen. Stenersen handled Munch’s finances, was accepted as a friend and confidant. Munch would occasionally give pictures to Stenersen, which are now to be admired in the small but interesting Stenersen Museum of Oslo. Stenersen’s explanation is probably the right one and also the most plausible. Stenersen explains the painting as the agony of a hypersensitive artist at the threat of a landscape’s colours and lines G31 . The agony remains within, in an imprisoned mind, in an artist unable to scream out loud.

And indeed, Munch was a hypersensitive artist. He was very sensitive to colours. He saw sometimes objects in other colours than normal people and he had a view on balance and harmony of structure and line in paintings that was remarkable. This sensitivity increased with age and Munch was only thirty years old when ‘The Scream’ was made. So we may expect also some deliberate search in this painting. ‘The Scream’ is not just the spontaneous expression in rapid lines that we find back in later works. ‘The Scream’ was also not painted after the periods that marked major disasters in Munch’s life, although the death of his sister and mother had already marked him much. Munch can be considered an intuitive, spontaneous, impulsive painter. Yet he was also very intelligent and reflected much on his pictures, their subject and their structure. He may have taken on a subject in an impulsive way; the result was always very deliberate.

How could ‘The Scream’ be made? What kind of a man was this Edvard Munch who had arrived at this representation? How did the history of art and the evolution of painting work in this personality to arrive at such an image? As we will see, it was in the absence of tradition and the lack of academics in a man from Northern Europe, working outside the main streams of seven centuries of oil painting, that lay the reasons for the genesis of this new kind of images, which would mark our own century. One other man started to paint this way almost at the same time. This was Vincent Van Gogh, and he shot himself only a couple of years after having made his first pictures in the new style. It is remarkable how both painters arrived at a very bright colour palette in their best and last periods of artistic work.

Edvard Munch continued to work in this, now his only and own style. Our century has remained in the influence of Munch, whether consciously or unconsciously. Only another new wave of pictures and yet new thinking on the very basis of our societies can help us get out of Munch’s nightmares.

Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch was born in Norway, in Loten in Hedmark at the end of 1863. Loten was only a village then, but Munch’s father was an army doctor, a medical officer at the garrison of Loten. On his father’s side, the Munchs were scientists, priests, and writers. Edvard Munch’s uncle, the brother of his father, wrote a national history of Norway that became very popular and famous since Norway’s nationalism grew at the end of the nineteenth century. On Munch’s mother’s side were farmers and merchants. His mother’s father had been a sea captain and a timber merchant. He lost his fortune during the economic recession that shook Norway. The country had been loosened from Denmark at the 1814 Treaty of Kiel. Norway had been handed over to Sweden. The competition by new sources of timber had stopped the business of the Bjolstads. After the 1840s, Norway slowly started to grow again and the country buzzed with new energy in the 1860s. Munch’s father was appointed to the Akershus fortress in Oslo in 1864. Akershus fort is still a military domain today and can be visited in Oslo. The town Oslo was in fact called Christiania until 1924.

Tuberculosis ran in Munch’s mother’s family. Laura Bjolstad died in 1868 when Edvard was only five years old. The younger sister Bjolstad, Edvard’s aunt Karen, moved in to run the household. She was something of a painter; she made miniatures, collages of moss and leaves and sold these to contribute to the family finances O5 . She inspired Edvard Munch to draw, encouraged him, so that at twelve he made sketches frequently. These were mostly of the indoors of the family flat, because he was often sick with chronic asthmatic bronchitis and rheumatic fever G31 so that he had to stay inside for long periods in Winter.

The Sick Child

In 1877, when Munch was fourteen years old, his older sister Johanne Sophie died of tuberculosis. This had an everlasting impression on Munch. He made paintings of his sick sister at different periods of his life, six versions of the ‘Sick Child’ in all U2 .

‘The Sick Child’ has become famous as one of the first paintings made in an entirely new style, eight years before ‘The Scream’, in a subjective and forceful, expressive way. The painting treats the scene very respectfully. Death is near; the child’s aunt bows her head to the inevitable end. Both child and aunt are linked by the nearing death. The colours of the figures are subdued but for the girl’s hair. Everything around the girl seems to fade away, colours and lines disappear. The girl is still alive, and that is shown by the white of the cushion, which envelops her like an aura. The girl may soon become as white as this and her soul will take the appearance of a white angel. In this white, the girl will sink away. The painting is seen as through a veil, as if life disappears and is only a shadow. The veil of sorrow also, that wets the eye and blurs the vision. The world around is strange, unreal, leaving. There is great tenderness in this painting. The aunt is present and thereby lends courage and a small rest of force to the girl. The aunt bows her head in respect so that her looks might not frighten further nor embarrass the girl.

The death of his younger sister affected Edvard Munch very much. He painted the scene many times over at various periods of his life. He always kept the wicker-chair in which Johanne-Sophie had died. One of those paintings made in 1889 is ‘Spring’. Other paintings on the theme are ‘Death in the Sick Room’ of 1893 and ‘Death Struggle’ of 1915. There are more than twenty-five years between these paintings but the memories; the frustration and obsession with this death remain the same.

In ‘Death in the Sick Room’, the image of the artist’s other and most beloved sister Inger, facing the painter as the only one to do so, is also present. The other figures belong to the past and do not seem to have the same attention of Munch as had Inger. Johanne Sophie is treated with the same delicate, tender respect as in previous pictures. Sophie is in the wicker-chair; but then again she is not really in the picture. She is only hinted at by the presence of the mourning figures. Her chair is turned away from the viewer. Mourning is indicated by the averted, bowing heads. All figures are in dark clothes, contrasting with the two horizontal planes of green and orange colours of the room. There is structure in this painting due to these horizontal colour surfaces, but also in the two sets of people. There is the triangle Sophie, father, aunt Karen to the right and Inger with two other figures of which one is sitting in a chair just like Sophie. This structure reminds of that other very individual painting of ‘Irene tending Sebastian’ of Georges de La Tour, in which there are similarly two sets of separated persons. A figure is leaving the room – Edvard Munch? – indicating the departure to the world of the dead.

‘The Death Struggle’ is more hallucinating. It is a painting from Munch’s later, very colourful period. Now, horrible death is immediately present. The departing soul and the pains are represented by the patches of red colour on the wallpaper behind the bed. These patches seem to form an ascending pattern and movement. The figures that are present however, are painted with bleak faces of which only remain masks. Munch repeatedly painted figures as hallucinating masks, as images of a nightmare, sometimes to underscore that these were images out of his memories, sometimes really to mean the danger that other people could represent.

Other Scandinavian painters took up images of sick children as themes after Krohg and Munch. So much so that Munch called this the ‘Pillow Period’. Ejnar Nielsen made a ‘Sick Girl’ in 1896. Nielsen’s picture is more realist, as cold as death itself, painted in the colours of oblivion. The girl has sunk into the bed, sunk into the deep and the iron bars retain her from life. The girl inexorably will sink into death. This is a picture of complete resignation, as Munch never accepted.


Maybe because of the loss of his sister Johanne Sophie was Edvard Munch so linked to his other sister, Inger. In 1884, one year before he painted the ‘Sick Child’, Munch made a portrait of Inger. Inger is still painted in a traditional style. She wears a black dress so that her body melts into the background. Emphasis is brought only to one hand and especially to the face. The picture proves how skilled a painter Munch already was at just twenty-one years old. Munch did not have to turn to rapid lines and colours because of lack of draftsmanship. He could draw and paint to natural detail as Rembrandt and he knew perfectly well the effects of light and dark. In ‘Inger’, the dark dress and dark background are used to bring the girl’s face directly to us in dramatic effect. Inger is a striking, good-looking young lady already. Strict and gloomy, she has one of the finest faces ever brought to the canvas.

Edvard Munch made another picture of her in 1892. In this portrait, Inger stands in full. She is again clad in a dark dress, but now red patches enliven the dress a bit. Inger is high-collared. Again only her hands and face testify to her human body. The hands are held together, in a form of prayer. The whole image expresses purity, restraint, strictness, and austerity. The beautiful face is open, longing for tenderness and love. It is a very sensitive face, of a person who would be able to give a lot of love and tenderness, but who is probably so sensitive as to be hurt at the slightest remark. She looks very vulnerable. This is a woman who can be broken so easily by life, but she guards herself from being hurt. This is one of the finest portraits of a woman ever made. This is a woman men fight for, not to have, not to possess, but to protect. The men who venerate such women do not marry them for fear of hurting such an exquisite being. And she would not want to marry other men.

‘Evening Talk’ was made in 1889, when Inger was twenty-one. Munch had settled then in Asgaardstrand, on the western bank of the Oslo fjord. Inger was a young lady by then, but in this scene she deliberately draws her shawl over her as if to hide form the man and close herself to maybe a beginning idyll. The man is a theatre critic, Sigurd Botker. With his high bowler hat and long waistcoat, long black beard he seems a Bluebeard whose only interest is in dominating and profiting from Inger. The landscape is marvellous, luxurious green. It is in contrast with the figures and the house. The meadows and flowers promise happiness and fertility, the two figures only radiate loneliness and separateness. The sharp distinction between the two parts of this picture creates the division of content K1 . But Inger is beautiful as ever.

Munch’s first paintings, first love

Edvard Munch had attended a technical college in Oslo, but only for one year. Technical studies were definitely not for him. The next year, in 1880, he entered the Royal School of Design in Christiania and started to paint. He worked a little with the Norwegian painter Christian Krohg.

Remarkably, Christian Krohg had painted a ‘Sick Child’, now in the National Gallery of Oslo, in 1880. In that painting a girl is lying in a white chair, enveloped in white linen. She holds a pink rose. Krohg made another painting on the same theme, ‘Mother and Child’ in 1883 in which a mother has fallen asleep on a bed next to the cradle in which lies her (sick?) baby. And Krohg made other similar paintings: ‘Mother at her Child’s bed’ in 1884 and ‘Tired’ in 1885. In ‘Tired’ a woman sits in a chair, almost asleep behind a sewing machine. Munch may have seen these paintings and have been inspired by them or by their theme, for his own famous ‘Sick Child’ painted in 1885-1886 when he was still so very young.

In 1885, Edvard Munch exhibited one of his paintings at the World Fair of Antwerp and he travelled to Antwerp and Paris. In Oslo, Munch made friends with a group of artists called the ‘Oslo Bohemians’. The most prominent figure of this group was Hans Jaeger, a writer. Munch made his portrait but years after would still be worried whether that was a good painting or not G31 .

Munch was also acquainted to the painter Frits Thaulow. He met the painter’s sister-in-law, Milly Thaulow. Milly and Edvard had an affair. Munch then was a striking, aristocratic young man, tall and slender with the poetic looks of a romantic artist. Munch would later say that he would always meet this kind of salon-women with the same features, over and over again G31. When these ladies tried to build ties, Munch escaped them, sometimes abruptly and by any means he could think of. These ladies were not in love with him, he said, but merely with the image of the artist. The affair with Milly did not last long. It lasted the time for her to find a new lover.

In 1889, Edvard Munch arranged his own exhibition in Oslo, the first exhibition to be held in Norway by one man alone O5 . He bought a small, modest house in Asgaardstrand. This house and the surroundings of Asgaardstrand were to be his real home for the next twenty years O5 . He would always come back to here and long for nature as it was around the fjord. He made many pictures of the environment of Asgaardstrand. To understand a little how bucolic and peaceful this particular place was, one can look at the picture that Hans Heyerdahl made of this fjord in 1887, a picture now also in the National Gallery of Oslo.

Major exhibitions, fame

Munch travelled to Paris on a state scholarship in 1889. He painted a little with the French painter Leon Bonnat. He rented a room in Saint Cloud. And he painted scenes of this apartment, of the models that sometimes came with him. During that period in Paris, his father died. Munch could not attend the funeral in time. But he went back to Norway, then yet again returned to France in 1890. He visited Nice, the South of France, received some money of his aunt Karen. He played roulette in Monte Carlo hoping to win money on a scheme thought out by some of his friends G31 .

Munch made a painting of his casino life in 1892, called ‘By the Roulette’. It is a daunting picture of the obsessed, eager men, all well dressed, with long bearded heads, all looking at the main player. In that, the player on the left, Munch, is isolated. It looks as if the whole table is spying at Munch. As if they have all come there only for one purpose: to encroach on him, to profit from him.

Munch also started a picture cycle that he called ‘The Frieze of Life’, to which he would add paintings almost to the end of his life.

Munch had received three scholarships to remain in France. A Norwegian writer, Bjornstjerne Bjornson, asked publicly in the press whether the State should subsidise vacations in the South of France for artists like Munch. So it was time for Munch to show what he had accomplished. He arranged a new exhibition in Oslo. A Norwegian painter living in Berlin, paying a visit to this exhibition, proposed him to present also his work at the Artist’s Union premises in Berlin O5 .

The Berlin exhibition of Edvard Munch opened in November 1892. The exhibition caused a general uproar. Munch’s way of painting was considered a scandal in Germany. Not his subjects, but this style was in cause. The exhibition was closed after one week. But Munch was famous. Further exhibitions were arranged in Köln and Düsseldorf, which were then the former centres of Romantic art in Germany.

Munch lived in Berlin for four years. He returned only to Oslo late in 1897, after a new exhibition in this town, which was more positive to him. When he had returned to Oslo however, his finances were very low. He lived in a very small studio together with another painter, Alfred Hauge O5 .


While in Berlin, Edvard Munch fell in love or was impressed to infatuation by a girl he had known since childhood, Dagny Juel. Munch had introduced Dagny to his friends in Berlin in 1893 and all fell in love with her. Dagny Juel married that same year the Polish poet Stanislaw Przybyszewski (1868-1927) who was part of the group. Juel and Przybyszewski practised free love. The poet would bring her himself to her lovers. Stanislaw Przybyszewski well understood the art of Munch for he wrote, ‘To depict psychological phenomena in terms of external events, to express ‘états d’âme’ in terms of ‘états de choses’, has always constituted until now the unbreakable law of tradition which no artist has ever dared to violate. Munch has broken entirely with this tradition. He attempts to present psychological phenomena immediately through colour.’ The Swedish writer August Strindberg, more or less a friend of Munch, had the same infatuation for Dagny Juel. After the affair with Milly Thaulow, which had shook Munch in that he was committing adultery with a married woman, this was a second traumatising relationship. His father had educated Munch in austere Christianism. His father read the Bible often to the family. The feelings of sin and aversion for his behaviour in his sentimental and sexual relations must have deeply touched Munch.

Munch made a painting called ‘Jealousy’ in 1895 over the triangle affair with Dagny Juel. Dagny is shown nude and red, clothed also in red, always a colour of violence and pain. Przybyszewski (or Munch?) is next to her as Adam and Eve. He offers her flowers, while she grasps the forbidden fruit. Munch would also later make several paintings of this theme of Adam and Eve under the tree in his ‘Frieze of Life’. Was it part of his memories with Dagny Juel? Munch’s (or Przybyszewski’s) figure with livid face appears in the foreground right, as a sad devil or lecher with ashen looks. The face is remarkable; it appears against the darkness with sunken eyes as a death mask out of a nightmare.

There could be no better expression of sin and torment, of jealousy, of repulsion and attraction. The painting is well constructed with the left scene of Adam and Eve and the right dark figure with bleak face, contrasting with the scene. The painting shows the destructive power of love and jealousy. A flower to the left should represent art, for Munch the only way to forget and to exorcise his torments.

Jealousy was not a new theme for Munch. He had witnessed the passion of his friend Jappe Nielsen for Oda Krohg, the lovely and lively painter-wife of the painter Christian Krohg with whom Munch had worked in his early years. The painting ‘Melancholy’ of 1892 refers to this relation of Oda Krohg and Jappe Nielsen. Two people are far away on the pier of a beach, together and yet separated. The man left alone in the relationship, Jappe Nielsen, is in pain with the torments of love and hatred. The boulders on the beach seem to crush him as life itself.

Munch made different paintings of Dagny Juel, either directly of her, or paintings in which his feelings were expressed. Thus the portrait he made of her in 1893. But also ‘Separation’ of 1896, ‘Vampire ‘ of 1893-1894, ‘The Kiss’ of 1897, his ‘Madonna’ of 1894-1895, ‘The Day after’ of 1894-1895, ‘Anxiety’ of 1894, even ‘Puberty’ of 1894-1895 and ‘Ashes’ of 1894. All these paintings show guilt and hiding (The Kiss), the devastating effect and power of woman over man (Vampire, Jealousy, Separation), the mystery of love and its direct result of pain (The Day after, Madonna), the genesis of womanhood and her sexuality (Puberty) and the psychological problems Munch had in coping with his emotions (Anxiety).

Dagny Juel, the mysterious, promiscuous nymph of the Berlin nightlife was killed, shot by her last lover when she wanted to leave him. The lover committed suicide.

Tulla Larsen

In 1896, Munch returned to Paris. He exhibited and continued to play roulette O5 . Then he returned home to Oslo in 1897. His problems were not over; they started only for real. Munch remained poor. Though known in Germany and Berlin, even in Oslo and Norway, the income from his paintings was insufficient.

Then Munch met the daughter of Oslo’s largest wine merchant, Mathilda or Tulla Larsen. A passionate relationship evolved. Edvard Munch was now thirty-four, Tulla was thirty. Maybe she was desperate, saw this as one of her last chances to build a family. Munch was far from ready to enter such involvement. They spoke about marriage, but Munch twice lost the papers. Munch and Tulla Larsen went together on a tour to Italy, but he soon sent her back to Paris, unable to support her presence long. Tulla had all the money; she would have power over Munch. They continued to meet on and off until 1902. Tulla tried to commit suicide with morphine. Finally they met in Asgaardstrand for a reconciliation G31 . Munch had a handgun in the house. Tulla must have threatened to kill herself. Munch must have wanted to divert the shot. But a shot there was. Munch’s middle finger of his left hand was partly shot off.

This event also had a profound impact on Munch. He never wanted to see Tulla again, blamed her for the incident. He wore a glove on his left hand and a ring on the shot finger. He never painted hands in full view again G31 . Tulla had new lovers, but continued to harass Munch, involving Munch’s former friends like Christian Krohg. This deeply wounded Munch. He thought more and more that everybody persecuted him.

Munch threw himself into work, travels and drink. He got in the newspapers for having had a brawl in a bar and fought with another artist. He had an exhibition in Berlin at the Berliner Secession, two exhibitions in Paris (1903 and 1904), in Prague in 1905 O5 . But his nerves were on end. He spent his summers of 1907 and 1908 at the German Baltic Sea coast; he rented a house at Warnemünde. Munch painted on the nudist beach of Warnemünde. His pictures of naked bathing men were called immoral in Norway. He had a nervous breakdown in Warnemünde in 1908. Munch travelled first to Copenhagen, then to Norway to the fashionable clinic of Doctor Jacobson O5 . He remained there eight months. He liked the atmosphere, was thankful and made a picture of Jacobson. He came out of the clinic surprisingly sober and cured.

To understand in what state Edvard Munch was in the period from 1898 to 1908, one has to bear in mind all the episodes of his life: the death of his mother in 1868, the death of his sister Sophie in 1877, of his father in 1889 and he had been unable to attend his father’s funeral. His sister Laura was admitted to a hospital for the mentally ill. He had an adultery relationship with Milly Thaulow in 1885, a strange and very unfulfilled relationship with Dagny Juel in 1893 to 1895. Dagny Juel was killed. His younger brother Andreas died in 1895 also. In 1896, manic hysteria was detected in his sister Laura. She was interned in a hospital for the mentally ill. Then came the tragic end of the relationship with Tulla Larsen in 1902 during which Munch was wounded. He had constantly financial problems of which some were due to his nerve-wrecking gambling at roulette tables. He drank, went to summer holidays on nudist beaches. He failed recognition until 1902-1903. A large part of Norwegian society rejected him. These were all really traumatising, wrecking experiences for a man of the artistic sensitivity of Munch.

The state of mind Munch was in can be seen in some of his paintings, as the continuance of earlier paintings like ‘Jealousy’, ‘Ashes’ or ‘Anxiety’. Munch painted for instance ‘Self-portrait in Hell’ in 1903. Munch presented himself in this picture in the nude, something he would almost not do anymore thereafter, amidst flames of hell and before a threatening shadow that resembles a phallus. His body is very pale but his face red and sunburnt. Munch went through the world like this, surrounded by menaces of pain, blood, and death.

Edvard Munch went alone, a stranger lost in thoughts and melancholy, as shown in his ‘Self-portrait with a Bottle of Wine’ of 1906. In this picture, all other people remain at a respectable distance but as in ‘Roulette’ they seem to spy on him. Munch was resigned in his fate, in his loneliness, in his abnormality to be unable to hold and persevere in any normal way social relations.

The shooting scene with Tulla Larsen is brought to life in ‘The Death of Marat I’ of 1907. A naked man lies on a bed. His hand is in blood and blood is all over the place. Man’s death, misery, comes from a woman. She keeps standing after the act, smeared in red blood, with red hair. Man is thrown down. Woman is victorious. This is a very cruel picture; no other picture in any century is so openly sexual, harsh and repulsive. Munch had to make these images as a kind of confession, catharsis, acceptance, and the scream to clear his mind. He could and would not talk much of his life to friends. His paintings were his way of telling, of expressing the pains and of asking forgiveness and maybe understanding. But it remained a monologue between him and the canvas, between Munch and himself.

Munch’s later periods

When Munch was discharged from Doctor Jacobson’s clinic in 1909, he had become an ascetic who knew and understood his problems clearly. He would never fall into the same traps. Of course, he would have other affairs with his models; he would go to brothels. But he avoided people; he avoided the same kind of relationships that he knew could only evolve into other dramas. He avoided drink. Out of fear of re-collapsing into these situations, he became more of a recluse. He returned to Oslo in 1909 with his friend Ludwig Ravensberg. Munch purchased various houses, first in Kragero, later in Hvtitsten.

Finally, in 1916, Munch bought a larger property at Ekely, which he subsequently enlarged for more studio space to work in and in which he would remain for the last twenty-seven years of his life. Munch continued here to work in peace, a peace he guarded ferociously, like the whims of an eccentric old man. He lived more and more as a hermit did, having good contacts only with a handful of picked people on whom he preferred to call himself when he wanted to see them. He hated being called upon unexpectedly.

Major exhibitions of Munch’s works were organised, among which the Sonderbund exhibitions of Cologne in 1912, during which Munch’s works were shown together with Van Gogh, Gauguin and Cézanne paintings O5 . Munch had a whole room to himself at that exhibition.

Munch continued to live in Ekely until his death in 1944, at the advanced age of eighty. All photographs he made of himself show him like the portrait of his sister Inger: very formal, always in full costume with tie, always in a formal pose, never relaxed, no view of his intimacy.

Munch lived as a recluse at Ekely. He rarely had visitors. He lived only with a female householder, which he changed frequently because he did not want anybody to take any possession of him, to have any degree of ascendancy however small over him. He neglected his house and garden, lived like a Spartan though he would grow immensely rich. He became so wealthy that he did not need to sell his pictures anymore, so he guarded these too ever more jealously. The paintings accumulated in his vast studios. He had few real friends and then always preferred to call on them than be disturbed by them coming to his house unexpectedly and uninvited. The older he was, the more difficult, whimsical, recluse he became.

The way of life of Munch is reflected in his paintings. The only subjects Munch had were himself, his house and garden at Ekely with the dogs and horses he neglected, but painted avidly, with the occasional workers on his house when he needed transformations, with images from local gossips or events. Munch developed his rapid style in bright colours. He made very many self-portraits

‘The artist and his model’ (1919-1921) and ‘Sitting model on a couch’ (1924) are references to Munch’s models and women that he used. In the first painting, Munch and the model are standing as before a mirror. The bed is unmade; a rug has all the heavy colours referring to the spent passion. Munch is standing completely clad, tie included, as the victor and voyeur. The model is undone in this painting, long hair and robes loosened on her body. She seems tired and has a blurred face. We can imagine Munch interrogating himself on the relationship and its meaning. But here Munch has the upper hand. It seems women are no longer victorious, Munch is.

‘The model sitting on a couch’ of 1924 is a portrait of one of Munch’s favourite models, Birgit PrestoeO5. This is a fine portrait, in harmonious light, in happy colours. Munch painted in his ‘fauvist’ style of using hard, contrasting colours. Thus, ‘Under the Chestnut tree’ of 1937 is another painting of one of his favourite models, Hanna Brieschke. It is again a marvellous picture. Hanna is standing under a tree with full, long, white flowers that seem to grow out of the woman. Only the lower red colours behind Hanna could refer to more pessimistic undertones.

In the 1930s Munch became more fascinated with colours and the effect they could have on him and on an audience. Also in that respect, he was a very atypical painter. The older painters become, the more dark generally their palette grows and the more rapid their brushstrokes. Munch always had a rapid brushstroke since after 1910, but his palette grew brighter and livelier. He had reached more peace, though at the cost of loneliness. But the peace was real.

So for instance ‘The Ladies on the Bridge’. This picture refers somewhat to images of piers and bridges, as Munch always seemed to have in mind. Were these images of a search, a direction into other kinds of relationships with people, other relationships he yearned for but could never get himself to pursue? In this painting and in others of that period, the colours are so bright and joyful as almost to shriek. Munch was clearly experimenting in how far he could go in using light and contrasting bright pure colours. He could only go as far as to use full white and this is almost the colour of the ladies on the bridge. They give the impression of youth, of angels living near Munch.

Munch’s aunt Karen died in 1931. She was ninety-one years old. Munch had rarely visited her the last years. Edvard and Inger were at the funeral. Edvard also rarely saw Inger, though they corresponded with letters.

Edvard Munch neared death in 1940. Nazi Germany had already condemned his art as degenerate, together with the work of many other painters like Chagall and Beckmann. Munch refused to have anything to do whatsoever with the German occupation in Norway, although he had much due to Germany. After all, this was the country that had made him famous. He had no sympathy for the German Nazis. He said so openly. He was afraid that the Germans would take away his paintings. He refused to see the occupiers as he refused to see any other person he did not well know and considered unnecessary intruders.

Not long before his death in 1944, in the period from 1940 to 1942, Munch painted one of his last masterpieces ‘Self-portrait between the Clock and the Bed’. It is a picture without self-pity. Munch has become an old man and he knew this in all clarity. His life now was now only a struggle against time. Death would come soon, as indicated by the clock. Until that moment there is only waiting. And on the other side below is a bed, but on the opposite of the clock is the figure of a naked woman. This was always the obsession and the difficulty of Edvard Munch. He was the playball of his times and of his sexual urges. He always longed for love, but had to experience that he could only get sex out of women. Women wanted to take some form of possession over him, which was intolerable to his character.

When Munch died in Ekely, eighty years old, he left eleven thousand paintings and eighteen thousand prints in his house. These were his children.


Edvard Munch had understood his inclinations during his stay in Jacobson’s clinic in 1908. It was a turning point in his life. He obviously wanted no more of his former life and its dangers. He wanted no more to inflict pain, no more to receive pain. The only alternative, protection, was to live alone. He was fortunate in that he had the means to do so. In loneliness, quite understandably, he became an eccentric old man, mainly pre-occupied with himself alone. This is a trait we see in many elder people who live alone. Yet, Edvard Munch needs our respect for his life after 1908. He made amends.

How should we treat Munch’s life in texts? Exhibitions and books on his art, also in Norway, pass rapidly in silence over some episodes of the times before 1908. Dagny Juel is then not mentioned, Tulla scarcely. Munch’s life is not detailed; the episodes that could be considered immoral are left out. Munch also did not want people to pry into his life and he communicated in a monologue with his paintings only. He not necessarily wanted to communicate with other people on the darkest episodes of his life. Yet, he showed his pictures in exhibitions and clearly sought recognition. To understand his pictures, we need the story of his life.

From the nineteenth century on, we can only understand fully pictures as of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Blake, Eugène Delacroix, Vincent Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, by knowing the life of the painters. This is as clear with no other painter as with Munch. It is even more so than with van Gogh for instance, who had a very short period of splendour. Munch painted hundreds of paintings that need to be looked at with particular interest. The painters are very often, due to the loneliness of Munch’s character, the direct expression of Munch’s moods and views. Munch’s paintings can only be understood by studying his life. But once the painting is understood, our gratitude and satisfaction at the great art in colours, lines and expression of Munch’s works remain unsurpassed in the twentieth century.

Other paintings:

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