Edvard Munch is 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.
In a sense similar to his near-contemporary, Vincent van Gogh, Munch strove to record a kind of marriage between the subject as observed in the world around him and his own psychological, emotional and/or spiritual perception.
His best known work, The Scream is one of the most well-known pictures in the history of art, and has become a popular icon of our time. The figure in the picture has been used in many different contexts, and appears in everything from political posters to horror films. It even has its own emoji. The motif Edvard Munch created 130 years ago has now become a symbol we use to convey emotions.
A majority of the works which Edvard Munch created, were referred to as the style known as symbolism. This is mainly because of the fact that the paintings he made focused on the internal view of the objects, as opposed to the exterior, and what the eye could see. Symbolist painters believed that art should reflect an emotion or idea rather than represent the natural world in the objective, quasi-scientific manner embodied by Realism and Impressionism. In painting, Symbolism represents a synthesis of form
and feeling, of reality and the artist’s inner subjectivity. Along with Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, Edvard Munch is considered as the most prominent Symbolist painters of 20th century.
Edvard Munch, who never married, called his paintings his children and hated to be separated from them. Living alone on his estate outside Oslo for the last 27 years of his life, increasingly revered and increasingly isolated, he surrounded himself with work that dated to the start of his long career.
A Norwegian born expressionist painter, Edvard Munch lived a tumultuous life, which was represented in his paintings. As a child, he was often ill in the winter, and kept out of school. To pass the time, he spent his days drawing. He also had a troubled childhood, as his mother died of tuberculosis after the birth of his youngest sister, and his favorite sister died of the same illness nine years later. His father was also a bit of a religious fanatic, who would read Edvard and his sisters ghost stories and the stories of Edgar Allen Poe. The vivid ghastly tales, combined with his poor health, the young Munch was plagued by nightmares and paranoid visions of death, which he would later incorporate into his artwork.
In 1881, Munch enrolled at the Royal School of Art and Design of Kristiania, one of whose founders was his distant relative Jacob Munch. His teachers were the sculptor Julius Middelthun and the naturalistic painter Christian Krohg. That year, Munch demonstrated his quick absorption of his figure training at the academy in his first portraits, including one of his father and his first self-portrait.
In 1885, Edvard Munch traveled to Paris, and was extremely influenced by Impressionists such as Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, and followed by the post-impressionism artists Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, and Paul Gauguin. In fact, the main style of Munch’s work is post-impressionism, and focused on this style.
Munch’s own deeply original style crystallized about 1892. The flowing, tortuous use of line in his new paintings was similar to that of contemporary Art Nouveau, but Munch used line not as decoration but as a vehicle for profound psychological revelation. The outraged incomprehension of his work by Norwegian critics was echoed by their counterparts in Berlin when Munch exhibited a large number of his paintings there in 1892 at the invitation of the Union of Berlin Artists. The violent emotion and unconventional imagery of his paintings, especially their daringly frank representations of sexuality, created a bitter controversy.
In 1908, Munch had an acute break with reality, seeing hallucinations and suffering feelings of persecution, as if he was on the brink of insanity. He began therapy, including a controlled diet and electrification, which stabilized his personality. Thus began his more financially and professionally successful phase in his life, where he received many commissions and was able to provide well for his family. He spent the last two decades of his life in relative isolation, painting at one of his many estates.
Edvard Munch passed away in 1944, in a small town which was just outside of his home town in Oslo. Upon his death, the works which he had created, were not given to family, but they were instead donated to the Norwegian government, and were placed in museums, in shows, and in various local public buildings in Norway.
When Munch died, his remaining works were bequeathed to the city of Oslo, which built the Munch Museum at Tøyen (it opened in 1963). The museum holds a collection of approximately 1,100 paintings, 4,500 drawings, and 18,000 prints, the broadest collection of his works in the world. The Munch Museum serves as Munch’s official estate it has been active in responding to copyright infringements as well as clearing copyright for the work, such as the appearance of Munch’s The Scream in a 2006 M&M’s advertising campaign. The U.S. copyright representative for the Munch Museum and the Estate of Edvard Munch is the Artists Rights Society.