Edvard Munch: The black tears of Krakatoa (1883)

Edvard Munch , born in 1863, was Norway’s most popular artist. His brooding and anguished paintings, based on personal grief and obsessions, were instrumental in the development of Expressionism. During his childhood, the death of his parents, his brother and sister, and the mental illness of another sister, were of great influence on his convulsed and tortuous art. In his works, Munch turned again and again to the memory of illness, death and grief.

Death in the Sick Room, prob. 1893. Tempera and crayon on canvas, 152.5 x 169.5 cm. National Gallery, Oslo

During his career, Munch changed his idiom many times. At first, influenced by Impressionism and Post-impressionism, he turned to a highly personal style and content, increasingly concerned with images of illness and death. In the 1892s, his style developed a ‘Synthetist’ idiom as seen in The Scream, which is regarded as an icon and the portrayal of modern humanity’s spiritual and existential anguish. He painted different versions of it.

The Scream, 1893. Tempera and pastels on cardboard, 91 × 73.5 cm. National Gallery, Oslo

During the 1890s Munch favoured a shallow pictorial space, and used it in his frequently frontal pictures. His work often included the symbolic portrayal of such themes as misery, sickness, and death. and the poses of his figures in many of his portraits were chosen in order to capture their state of mind and psychological condition. It also lends a monumental, static quality to the paintings.

Madonna, 1894-1895. Oil on canvas, 91 x 70.5 cm. National Gallery, Oslo

In 1892, the Union of Berlin Artists invited Munch to exhibit at its November exhibition. His paintings invoked bitter controversy at the show, and after one week the exhibition closed.

Spring Evening on Karl Johan Street, 1892. Oil on canvas, 84.5 x 121 cm.
Private collection, Bergen.

In the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazis labelled his work “degenerate art”, and removed his works from German museums. This deeply hurt the antifascist Munch, who had come to feel Germany was his second homeland. In 1908 Munch’s anxiety became acute and he was hospitalised. He returned to Norway in 1909 and died in Ekely, near Oslo in 1944.

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