Edvard Munch was a Norwegian painter and printmaker considered to be a pioneer in the Expressionist movement in modern painting. He developed a free-flowing style of painting which though built upon the principles of the late 19th century Symbolism, was unique in its own right. What distinguished his paintings from those of others was the profound psychological themes that underlined his works. He often drew inspiration from morbid topics like illness, depression, and death—probably a result of the tragedies and losses he suffered during his childhood. His mother died when he was just five and he also lost an elder sister when he was a kid. His other siblings too did not enjoy good health, adding to his woes. His father was a caring person, and he grew up in a culturally stimulating home, but the early unhappy memories of his losses always haunted him. Though he initially enrolled at a technical college to study engineering, he soon realized that his true passion was art and moved on to study at the Royal School of Art and Design. Naturally talented, he poured out his grief onto the canvas, in the form of intense paintings with deep underlying psychological themes. Eventually he became a much respected artist, recognized all over the world for his invaluable contributions to the Expressionist movement.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on 12 December 1863 in a farmhouse in the village of Adalsbruk in Norway. His father Christian Munch was a doctor and medical officer, who was also very religious. His mother Laura Catherine was 20 years younger than his father. He had one elder sister and three younger siblings.
Unfortunately his mother died of tuberculosis in 1868 when he was just five years old. He and his siblings were then raised by his father and aunt Karen. Edvard suffered from ill-health as a child and therefore remained at home during the winter months. His father took care of the children as well as he could, teaching them literature and regaling them with ghost-stories.
Edvard’s elder sister also died from tuberculosis, adding to the young boy’s sadness. He began to suffer from nightmares and delusions, and developed a fear of death. The tragedy of losing his mother and sister in quick succession, combined with the ghost stories his father told him disturbed him mentally.
His father’s earnings were low and the family struggled in poverty. Art was the only form of respite available to Edvard, and he began drawing in earnest. He met other artists at the Art Association when he was 13. Impressed by the landscapes he saw there, he too began to paint in oils.
He enrolled in a technical college in 1879 to study engineering. But his heart was not in engineering in spite of the fact that he excelled in mathematics, physics, and chemistry. He realized that his true calling was to be a painter and thus he quit his studies.
He enrolled at the Royal School of Art and Design of Christiania in 1881. There he received training from instructors such as the sculptor Julius Middelthun and the naturalistic painter Christian Krohg.
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He experimented with many styles during the early years of his career. He dabbled in Naturalism and Impressionism, and painted several portraits and nudes. He completed his painting ‘The Sick Child’ in 1886, symbolically representing his emotions at the time of his sister’s death some years ago.
In 1889, he traveled to France and lived there for the next three years. During this period he painted a series of paintings called the “Frieze of Life”, which encompassed 22 works for a Berlin exhibition.
The collection consisted of paintings such as “Despair”, “Melancholy”, “Anxiety”, “Jealousy”, and most importantly, “The Scream”, which became one of his best known paintings. This collection proved to be a great success and established him as a popular artist.
With time he grew extremely famous and his financial situation also improved considerably. However, his personal demons continued to haunt him. He became an alcoholic and his mental problems became more severe. This also began to affect his career as an artist.
During the 1900s, his drinking problem spiraled out of control and he began to suffer from hallucinations. In order to reclaim his life, he underwent therapy for a few months and recovered well.
He returned to painting and re-established his reputation. Once again his career stabilized and his financial position improved. He eventually moved to a country house in Norway where he spent his later years in solitude. He continued painting up to his death, often depicting his physical ailments in his later works.
Personal Life & Legacy
His unhappy childhood continued to haunt him for long. In spite of becoming a much renowned artist, he could not find peace and happiness, and was always mentally disturbed. He developed a drinking habit and suffered from anxiety issues.
Munch began an intimate relationship with Tulla Larsen in 1899, and they even traveled together to Italy and back. Tulla wanted to marry him but Munch did not want to marry because of his psychological issues. The woman finally gave up and married someone else, while he remained unmarried for life.
In late 1908 he entered the clinic of Dr. Daniel Jacobson for therapy to deal with his mental issues. The treatment helped him and he returned to painting in 1909. Once again he was able to establish his reputation.
He spent much of his later life in solitude and died in his house at Ekely near Oslo on 23 January 1944, at the age of 80.