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Edvard Munch

Updated on December 1, 2016

Edvard Munch (1863-1944) was Norway's greatest painter and graphic artist, whose work was a major source of inspiration for modern expressionism. He was born in Loten on December 12, 1863, the son of a doctor in a poor district. He studied and painted in Oslo and Paris during the 1880's and in 1892 exhibited some 50 paintings in Berlin. His works aroused so much public controversy that they were withdrawn, but German artists were deeply impressed. Munch spent most of the next 15 years in Germany. After a nervous breakdown in 1908, he returned to Norway and lived in virtual seclusion until his death at his estate, near Oslo, on January 23, 1944.

Haunted by personal anxieties (which were heightened in childhood by the death of his mother and a sister and were reinforced by a profound pessimism) Munch repudiated realistic art in order "to create living people who breathe and feel and suffer and love." The dramas of Ibsen and Strindberg and the art of Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin and Van Gogh influenced his work. By 1889 he had developed an existential art in which psychic realities were convincingly visualized in terms of personal symbols, powerfully undulating linear patterns, and expressively distorted color. Among his favorite themes were seduction, jealousy, and illness and death, in which woman was featured as a demonic embodiment of the life-force. Many of his best works were produced in the decade 1890 to 1900, paintings such as Death in the Sick Chamber, Puberty, and Dance of Life (all in the National Gallery, Oslo), as well as some of the greatest portraits of modern art. In 1894 he began to produce extremely influential works of graphic art, using in some cases the subject matter of his paintings- for example, The Scream (lithograph, 1895; painting, 1893).

After 1908, Munch's outlook was more affirmative and his work less tormented. In a monumental series for the University of Oslo (1910-1915), he celebrated science, history, and nature with exuberant brushwork and brilliant color.


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