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Creator / Edvard Munch

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Self Portrait in Hell

Edvard Munch (12 December 1863 – 23 January 1944) was a Norwegian artist (painter, printmaker, sometime photographer…) working in the 19th and 20th centuries. He broke with convention in a number of ways, in general turning his back on verisimilitude in his figurative art in favor of showing how things looked and felt to him. In this he would be a great influence on the Expressionist art before, during and after World War I and modern art in general.

It is sometimes debated whether Munch was as angsty and troubled as he let on, or whether he was an expert self-dramatizer. Available evidence suggests that both things are true. In either case, since his best-known work is entitled "The Scream"—and for good reason!—we can regard this as an essential component of both his personality and his work.


Edvard Munch provides examples of:

  • Age-Appropriate Angst: "Puberty" features a young, prepubescent girl sitting in the nude on her bed while a large shadow can be seen behind her on the wall. It expresses her fear of growing from a girl into a woman and sexual angst.
  • Amazing Technicolor Population: This was one of Munch's innovations that influenced expressionism. Some of his figures had skin tones that were natural for Northern Europe. Others were green, blue, bright red: whatever it seemed like they should be.
  • Angst: Munch expressed this feeling in many of his works, some even simply titled "anxiety".
  • The Big Damn Kiss: His paintings entitled "The Kiss" and a few others.
  • The Blank: A lot of figures in his works, especially background ones, are missing some or all of their facial features. The androgynous central figure of "The Scream" has a face but no hair or ears.
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  • Crapsack World: Munch suffered from neurosis, fear and a dominant religious zealot father. Many of his works are about negative emotions and events like death, sexual anxiety, sickness, depression, melancholy, separation, jealousy, sadness. Munch stated that this was a case of It Runs in the Family. His relatives had a choice, he claimed, between dying from consumption at an early age, or going into gradual Sanity Slippage.
  • Cue the Sun: Munch was assigned to decorate the grand hall of the Oslo University in 1913, and made his largest pictures for the walls. The most prominent one is the Sun, probably just as archetypical as the Scream, the Madonna and the Vampire.
  • Death of a Child: In "Inheritance", which shows a woman clutching her dead or dying infant.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The painting "Vampire" shows a man with his head buried in a woman's torso under her cascading hair. The title could conceivably refer to either one of them.
  • Fan Disservice: "Death of Marat I" shows a good looking naked man (Marat) and woman (Charlotte Corday), only he's lying dead in a bloody tub and she's giving us a creepy thousand yard stare.
  • Femme Fatale: Dark and dangerous women abound in his work.
  • The Hecate Sisters: An interesting variety. One of his recurring motifs are the maiden, the mother and the whore.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Female models with red hair seem to be a bit of Author Appeal for Munch.
    • Dagny Juel, one of his most prominent novels (and lovers) was a redhead. She is the model for the Madonna picture.
  • Ill Girl: Subject of "The Sick Child", which was inspired by the death of his older sister at age 15 from tuberculosis.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Most of the critics thought so. They mostly thought his paintings were pure crap, and Munch himself was deemed to be out of his mind to paint like he did.
  • Never Accepted in His Hometown: Munch went abroad pretty early after a really lousy reception in Christiania. He didn`t return for many years.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Note that many of his painted characters avoid eye contact. The lack of communication is notable.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: His only painting that has reached pop culture fame is "The Scream", which has been parodied and referenced so often that it practically has become a Stock Parody. The sad thing is that the general audience doesn't always know who painted it and isn't very familiar with Munch's other works.
  • Sanity Slippage: Many pictures deal with the possibility. A lot of critics dismissed him as a madman, and eventually - he had to be interred (1908).
    • To top this, the canvas of The Scream has the following words written over the skyline: This could only have been painted by a loony.
  • Shadow of Impending Doom: His paintings and drawings, often use shadows and rings of color, to emphasize an aura of fear and anxiety.
  • Shout-Out:
    • He painted portraits of two of his heroes: Friedrich Nietzsche and playwright August Strindberg.
    • His painting "Starry Night" is a more subdued take on the subject, than that of Vincent van Gogh, who was still largely an unknown.
    • His "Kiss" paintings revisit a theme and pose, by Italian painter Francesco Hayez. Gustav Klimt's version is more famous, but he actually came after Munch.
  • Skull for a Head: The figure on "The Scream" has a pale head that is very skull like.


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