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Featured Artist: Edvard Munch

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Edvard Munch was an expressionist painter, and printer. Born in Norway in 1863, Munch was raised in Christiania (known as Oslo today). His role in German expressionism is immense, and his style inspired many art movements that followed.    Munchs childhood was overshadowed by illness, grief and the fear of inheriting a mental condition that ran in his family. He lost his mother only a few years after he was born. His father too suffered from mental illness, which strongly affected Munch and it is believed to be the reason why the artist was known to have so many repressed emotions as he grew up.

Munch himself was influenced by Impressionists in the likes of  Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, and post-impressionism artists like Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, and Paul Gauguin. Although the main style of Munch’s work is post-impressionistic, a majority of the works by Munch are in a style reffered as symbolism. This is because of the fact that the paintings he made focused on the internal view of the objects, rather than the exterior 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 manner embodied by Realism and Impressionism. In painting, Symbolism represents a synthesis of form and feeling of reality and the artist’s inner subjectivity.

Munch began his artistic career as a student of Norwegian painter Christian Krohg, who believed in realistic depiction of contemporary life known as Naturalism, but Munch developed rather expressive style to convey his emotional sensation. He was less concerned about the external appearance of his subjects as he once said “I do not paint what I see, but what I saw.” He progressed toward simplified forms and blocks of intense color with the avowed purpose of conveying strong feelings. In early 1890, in a huff, Munch quit the class of an esteemed Parisian painting teacher who had criticized him for portraying a rosy brick wall in the green shades that appeared to him in a retinal afterimage. In ways that antagonized the contemporary art critics, who accused him of exhibiting “a discarded half-rubbed-out sketch” and mocked his “random blobs of color,” he would incorporate into his paintings graffiti-like scrawls, or thin his paint and let it drip freely.

Edvard Munch, with his expressionist style depicted emotions by contrasting lines, blocks of colors and a concise of exaggerated forms. In his works he often depicted scenes of life and death, love, terror and loneliness. Munch is often and rightly compared with Van Gogh, who was one of the first artists to paint what the French artist called “the mysterious centers of the mind.” But perhaps a more overreaching influence was Sigmund Freud, a very close contemporary. Freud explained much human behavior by relating it to childhood experiences. Munch saw his mother die of tuberculosis when he was 5, and his sister Sophie die of the same disease when he was 14. Munch gives the By the Death Bed and Death in the Sickroom a universal cast by not specifically depicting what he had witnessed. Several versions of The Sick Child are surely his sister

I will paint living people who breathe and feel and suffer and love. ”- Edvard Munch

Among the many iconic works of Edvard Munch ‘The Scream’ has achieved much higher place in the art world.  As Leonardo’s Monalisa evoked a Renaissance ideal of serenity and self-control, Munch defined how we see our own age – wracked with anxiety and uncertainty. His painting of a sexless, twisted, fetal-faced creature, with mouth and eyes open wide in a shriek of horror, re-created a vision that had seized him as he walked one evening in his youth with two friends at sunset. As he later described it, “the air turned to blood and the faces of my comrades became a garish yellow-white. Vibrating in his ears he heard a huge endless scream course through nature.” He had made two oil paintings, two pastels and numerous prints of the image; the two paintings belong to Oslo’s National Gallery and to the Munch Museum, also in Oslo. Both have been stolen in recent years, and the one that belonged to Munch Museum is still missing.

Munch lived a long artistic career, for him art was not only his love but also a need. He suffered psychological traumas and depression from his childhood and it was only through art that he generated a defense to live on. Munch never married and called his paintings his children and hated to be separated from them. He lived 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. Upon his death in 1944, at the age of 80, it is said that the authorities discovered behind locked doors on the second floor of his house a collection of 1,008 paintings, 4,443 drawings and 15,391 prints, as well as woodcuts, etchings, lithographs, lithographic stones, woodcut blocks, copperplates and photographs.

Munch is recognized as one of the few artists of his time who rejected predefined conventions and took a leap to discover new ways of perceiving art. His art works make us realize that art cannot be binded to beauty and valor but rather art is more like a dream that helps us to face reality.

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