Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Spotlight on Edvard Munch

Self Portrait 1881-1882
Edvard Munch was born on December 12, 1863 in Løten, Norway to Christian Munch and Laura Catherine Bjølstad. He was the second oldest, in a family of five children. Sadly, his mother died in 1868 from tuberculosis, followed not long after, from the same deadly disease, by his oldest sister in 1877. While his aunt took over in raising himself and his remaining siblings, these events coloured Munch's outlook on life for years to come.

Not a healthy young man in his own right, Munch spent much of his youth out of school, usually at home drawing to fill the hours. His father instructed him in history and literature, but art was his true passion from an early age. In 1879 he entered a technical school to study engineering, but a year later, much to his father's disappointment, he left to pursue a career as a painter. By 1881, he was enrolled at the Royal School of Art and Design and in 1883 he took part in his first public exhibition.

The Sick Child - 1886
Munch created many self-portraits throughout his life, but through associations with Christian Krohg and Hans Jaegger, his work slowly started to transform during his early formative years. Krohg was a Naturalist painter that influenced Munch during his time at the Royal School of Art and Design. Jaeger was a local nihilist and member of the 'Christiania's Bohemia', who urged Munch to delve into his emotions within his artwork. It was during this time that he worked on his soul diaries, and also when he created one of his first well known paintings 'The Sick Child'. This dark painting spoke of his sister's death, but also of the depressing mindset that he lingered under. He struggled with the concept of a soul in conflict with nature and his work reflected that at the time. As his skill grew, he found that the Impressionism that he had first utilized did not adequately express the angst that was in his soul and he moved towards a post-Impressionistic style.

The Scream - 1893
In 1889, Munch displayed a collection of his works at the Student Organization in Christiania. It was so well received that he earned himself a two-year scholarship to the Bonnat School of Art in Paris. There he was introduced to works from painters such as Gauguin, Van Gogh and Toulose-Lautrec, who all used colour to depict emotions. He took these concepts and made them his own. That same year, his father died, leaving the care of his remaining siblings under his responsibility. His father's death increased the underlying depression that plagued Munch throughout his life, but he managed to carry on. Sadly, his work during that time reflected his means of coping, namely depictions of dark taverns where he tried to drown his sorrows.

By 1892, a bright spot entered Munch's life in the form of an invitation to exhibit his work at an exhibition with the Union of Berlin Artists in Germany. While his artwork caused enough controversy to shut down the exhibition after only one week, this pleased him enough to make Berlin home for the next four years. During his time there, he worked on his 'Frieze of Life', which was a collection of pieces that represented life, death, anxiety, hopelessness, jealousy and sexual humiliation. They caused a stir that could not be ignored.  Munch also began to experiment with lithographs, woodcuts and photographs to allow his artwork to be seen by a wider audience.

The Day After - 1894
The depression that plagued Munch throughout his life came to a head in 1908. Always prone to the drink, after a devastating breakup with Tulla Larsen, he became a heavy drinker and suffered from even more health problems. By the fall of the that year, he checked himself into a clinic in Copenhagen and remained there for eight months. The effects of his treatment are seen in his subsequent artwork, as his tone was often less dark and pessimistic after that.

During his remaining years, Munch led a more secluded lifestyle. He finally won recognition and praise in his home country and was able to buy property in Ekly, Norway. While he continued to paint, landscapes now reigned, as well as many portraits. The war years were difficult for him, as he had many friends in Germany, but did not support Hitler's regime. When the Nazis took over Norway, he subsequently hid all of his artwork to prevent it from being discovered. On January 23, 1944 Edvard Munch died peacefully at home.

Munch was nothing, if not a master of emotion. His use of colour and raw emotion lent itself to many dramatic works that are just as familiar today as they were then. His iconic painting "The Scream" is recognized by one and all and this coming Saturday, Budding Artists will be exploring the life and styles of this gifted painter. So if you have a budding artist in your home, why not think about having them join us for our art workshop this week.

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