Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch was a Norwegian painter and printmaker whose intensely evocative treatment of psychological themes built upon some of the main tenets of late 19th-century Symbolism and greatly influenced German Expressionism in the early 20th century. Munch was born in the village of Ådalsbruk in Løten before moving to Christiania (now Oslo) in 1864. Often ill, Edvard would draw to keep himself occupied. His father instructed him in history and literature, and entertained him with vivid ghost-stories and tales of Edgar Allan Poe which inspire macabre visions and nightmares in Edvard, who felt death constantly advancing on him.

In 1879, Munch enrolled in a technical college to study engineering, but frequent illnesses interrupted his studies. The following year, he left the college determined to become a painter. During these early years, Munch experimented with many styles but many of these attempts brought him unfavorable criticism from the press and garnered him constant rebukes by his father. Under Hans Jæger's commandment that he should explore his own emotional and psychological state, Munch began a period of reflection and self-examination, recording his thoughts in his "soul's diary".

In 1889, Munch presented his first one-man show of nearly all his works to date. The recognition it received led to a two-year state scholarship to study in Paris under French painter Léon Bonnat. He was enthralled by the vast display of modern European art, including the works of three artists who would prove influential: Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. When his dad died, he got into depression and was plagued by suicidal thoughts.

Adelsteen Normann invited Munch to exhibit in Berlin for his first one-man exhibition but his paintings evoked bitter controversy and after one week, the exhibition closed. In Berlin, Munch involved himself in an international circle of writers, artists and critics. During his four years there, he sketched out most of the ideas that would comprise his major work, The Frieze of Life. His other paintings show a simplification of form and detail which marked his early mature style. The dramatic focus of the painting, portraying his entire family, is dispersed in a series of separate and disconnected figures of sorrow. In 1894, he enlarged the spectrum of motifs. This work reveals Munch's preoccupation with the "fall of man" myth and his pessimistic philosophy of love.

He also started to work on The Scream that exists in four versions. It's Munch's most famous work and one of the most recognizable paintings in all art. It has been widely interpreted as representing the universal anxiety of modern man.

In 1896, Munch moved to Paris, where he focused on graphic representations of his "Frieze of Life" themes. Many of the Parisian critics still considered Munch's work "violent and brutal" but his exhibitions received serious attention and good attendance. Also, his financial situation improved considerably. In 1899, Munch began an intimate relationship with Tulla Larsen, starting another fertile period in his art, which included landscapes and his final painting in "The Frieze of Life" series. Larsen was eager for marriage but Munch begged off. Munch's self-destructive and erratic behavior involved him with a violent quarrel with another artist, and an accidental shooting in the presence of Tulla Larsen.

When the Fauves held their own exhibit in 1906, Munch was invited and displayed his works with theirs. After an earlier period of landscapes, in 1907 he turned his attention again to human figures and situations. However, in the autumn of 1908, Munch's anxiety, compounded by excessive drinking and brawling, had become acute. The therapy he received for the next eight months included diet and "electrification". Munch's stay in hospital stabilized his personality, and after returning to Norway in 1909, his work became more colorful and less pessimistic. Museums began to purchase his paintings. He was made a Knight of the Royal Order of St. Olav. His first American exhibit was in 1912 in New York. With more income, he was finally able to provide for his family.

The outbreak of World War I found Munch with divided loyalties, as he stated, "All my friends are German but it is France that I love." Munch spent most of his last two decades in solitude in Oslo. Many of his late paintings celebrate farm life. To the end of his life, Munch continued to paint unsparing self-portraits. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazis labeled Munch's work "degenerate art" and removed his works from German museums. In 1940, the Germans invaded Norway. He lived in fear of a Nazi confiscation. Seventy-one of the paintings previously taken by the Nazis had found their way back to Norway through purchase by collectors. Munch died in his house at Ekely near Oslo on 23 January 1944, about a month after his 80th birthday.

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