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Edvard Munch: Frieze of Life

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“My whole life has been spent walking by the side of a bottomless chasm, jumping from stone to stone. Sometimes I try to leave my narrow path and join the swirling mainstream of life, but I always find myself drawn inexorably back towards the chasm’s edge, and there I shall walk until the day I finally fall into the abyss.” -Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch was born on December 12, 1863, in Loten, Norway. He is best known for his painting “The Scream” (“The Cry”; 1893), which is the most recognizable works in the history of art. Munch faced a series of familial tragedies in his life, he lost his mother at an early age and later his sister died of tuberculosis, his another sister was institutionalized for mental illness, and his only brother died of pneumonia at the age of 30. The fatalities that he witnessed in his family had a great consequence in the progress of his artistic approach. He developed a free flowing psychological style of painting themes of which mostly dealt with despair, anxiety, melancholy, loss, love, life and death .

In December 1893, Munch exhibited his paintings in Berlin, showing, among other pieces, six paintings entitled Study for a Series: Love. This began a cycle he later called the Frieze of Life—A Poem about Life, Love and Death.  It was after the death of his father in 1889 that Munch took the series of paintings he titled as the “Frieze of Life,” . During those years Munch lived mainly in France funded by state scholarships.  The “Frieze of Life,” encompassed 22 works with paintings bearing such titles as “Despair” (1892), “Melancholy” (c. 1892–93), “Anxiety” (1894), “Jealousy” (1894–95) and “The Scream” (also known as “The Cry”). The entire “Frieze of life” was shown for the first time at the secessionist exhibition in Berlin in 1902.The collection was a huge success, and Munch soon became known to the art world. Subsequently, he found brief happiness in a life otherwise colored by excessive drinking, family misfortune and mental distress.

“The Frieze of Life” themes recur throughout Munch’s work but he especially focused on them in the mid-1890s. In sketches, paintings, pastels and prints, he tapped the depths of his feelings to examine his major motifs: the stages of life, the femme fatale, the hopelessness of love, anxiety, infidelity, jealousy, sexual humiliation, and separation in life and death. These themes are expressed in paintings such as The Sick Child (1885), Love and Pain (retitled Vampire; 1893–94), Ashes (1894), and The Bridge. The latter shows limp figures with featureless or hidden faces, over which loom the threatening shapes of heavy trees and brooding houses. Munch portrayed women either as frail, innocent sufferers (see Puberty and Love and Pain) or as the cause of great longing, jealousy and despair (see Separation, Jealousy, and Ashes).


The Scream (1893)

Among the Munch’s most famous work, ‘the Scream’ has achieved a greater recognition in the history of art. ‘The Scream’ is generally interpreted as a representation of universal anxiety of modern man.  There are four versions of ‘Scream’ the last one painted in 1893 became the most famous work of art ever produced.

This is what Munch wrote of how the painting came to be:

“I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature.”He later described the personal anguish behind the painting, “for several years I was almost mad… You know my picture, ‘The Scream?’ I was stretched to the limit—nature was screaming in my blood… After that I gave up hope ever of being able to love again.”


To outline the importance of ‘The Scream author Martha Tedeschi  stated:

Whistler’s Mother, Wood’s American Gothic, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” have all achieved something that most paintings—regardless of their art historical importance, beauty, or monetary value—have not: they communicate a specific meaning almost immediately to almost every viewer. These few works have successfully made the transition from the elite realm of the museum visitor to the enormous venue of popular culture.

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