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Edvard Munch and His Work "The Scream"

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The Scream (1893)

The Scream (1893)

Munch Arrives in Paris

What did young artists usually do when they came to Paris from a remote province, in Norway, at the end of the 19th century? Of course, they went to exhibitions and looked at what was happening at the forefront of artistic Europe, which France was at that time.

By 1885, when Edvard Munch appeared in Paris, Renoir had already painted Breakfast of the Rowers, Manet had completed A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, Seurat had begun Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, and Cezanne had finished Self Portrait.

And this whole kaleidoscope of artistic styles and creative personalities could not but influence the talented and greedy young Norwegian. And, probably, there was also the immoderate consumption of absinthe, the most fashionable drink in Paris at that time, and some love adventures.

Characteristics of Munch

His art consists entirely of symbols and allegories, his favorite themes are love and an obsessive thought of loneliness. Like many of his contemporaries, Munch is convinced that painting can and should express something other than the sunny carelessness of the Impressionists, the bourgeois detachment of Manet and Stevens, the flight into the Maori exoticism of Gauguin, the historical dreams of Gustave Moreau or Böcklin.

Melankoli (1891)

Melankoli (1891)

Munch Struggles With His Health

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, Munch's mental health was under duress. His hectic lifestyle, excessive alcohol consumption, and problems with women—particularly the break with Tula Larsen—aggravated the artist's delicate condition. He repeatedly underwent treatment in clinics, but it did little to help.

At the same time, his pictorial approach was formed, which could be called a kind of therapy. Around 1890, Munch turned to Symbolism. In his landscapes, nature becomes a reflection of the emotional state of a person, a mirror of his soul. The Scream is one of Munch's many attempts to convey his impressions of a natural phenomenon. The artist wrote,

"Nature is not only all that is visible to the eye...it also includes the inner pictures of the soul."

The Scream

There is no work of art in which the existential, primal fear of man is captured more impressively than in The Scream. A sexless creature with a frightened expression wanders along the bridge, which goes into the depths of the picture. The artist sought to express his innermost feelings while rejecting already-known styles and trends. His pictorial methods are radical: frontality of the figure, extreme perspective, and a landscape that seems to dissolve in a whirlpool of lines.

Munch's original German title for the painting was Der Schrei der Natur (Cry of Nature).

Munch described the essence of the central image in his diary:

“I was walking along a path with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature."

It is possible that the crimson color of the sky in the painting is not an exaggeration. Munch could see such a color. In 1883, a powerful volcanic eruption occurred in Krakatoa in Indonesia that was so powerful its force affected the whole globe. A huge amount of ash was thrown into the atmosphere, which is why for several years, especially colorful, fiery sunsets were observed around the world.

It is quite possible that the scream that Munch heard was not some kind of idea or hallucination. Near Ekeberg were the largest slaughterhouse in Oslo and a psychiatric clinic. The cries of the slaughtered animals, along with the cries of the mentally ill, were unbearable.

Anxiety, 1894

Anxiety, 1894

Munch Returns to the Same Subject

It was typical for Munch to repeatedly return to the same subjects. There are about 40 versions of The Scream: four of them are paintings (they appeared between 1893 and 1910), and the rest are graphic works (including prints and drawings). There are also variations in composition and imagery.

The essence of the central image remains a mystery. The artist did not seek to draw this figure. Munch writes the sound itself, the state. See how the lines that paint the landscape and the flash are coordinated. They seem to be in resonance. Man hears the cry of nature and reacts to it, and nature cannot but respond to the state of man. In fact, this is the idea of ​​universal unity.

In nature, you will not find a single perfectly straight line. And Munch paints the environment exactly in the form in which it was created.

“By painting colors and lines and forms seen in quickened mood I was seeking to make this mood vibrate as a phonograph does. This was the origin of the paintings in The Frieze of Life,” he said.

Different variation of The Scream

Different variation of The Scream

The Scream is part of a cycle of paintings about love, life, and death. It was first presented to the public at the Berlin exhibition in December 1893. Of course, no one understood anything, criticism took up arms against Munch, and even the police had to be invited to the gallery so that angry people would not start a pogrom.

The public wondered how such a pleasant young man could paint such horrible pictures. However, it was this work that became programmatic for expressionism. It brought piercing loneliness and despair to art. We, who know what the world was waiting for in the 20th century, can call Munch a soothsayer.

Munch was influenced by famous artists like Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Georges Seurat, and others, who allowed his talent to reveal itself in full force, to express itself. They opened the doors for him to the unknown world of social contradictions of real life and helped to penetrate the soul of an ordinary person while expressing their own feelings through mysticism, drama, and gloomy forebodings.

  • Edvard Munch | Britannica
    Edvard Munch (born December 12, 1863, Löten, Norway—died January 23, 1944, Ekely, near Oslo) was a Norwegian painter and printmaker whose intensely evocative treatment of psychological themes is present in his most famous work, "The Scream."
  • The Scream, 1893 by Edvard Munch
    Munch's official website gives details on and the history of the work.
  • Fine Art Reproductions
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