Norwegian symbolist Edvard Munch is another of those artists, like Whistler or even Hokusai, whose oeuvre is condensed to a single image in the minds of most people, in this case his iconic image The Scream.
There are actually several versions of The Scream, including both paintings and prints, more than one of which have been the target of high-profile art thefts (later recovered).
The theme of suffering and mental anguish carried through much of Munch’s work, however.
His formative years were marked by a father who was fanatically religious and obsessed with sorrow and death. His Mother and beloved elder sister died of consumption, now known as tuberculosis, when Munch was five and fourteen, respectively; and one of his younger sisters developed a mental illness at an early age.
Munch himself was a sickly child, often in bed for long periods where he would draw to keep himself amused. In addition to religious subjects, his father schooled Munch and his remaining children in literature, including frequent readings of ghost stories and the work of Edgar Allen Poe.
Munch’s later life was torn by dramatically unhappy love affairs, alcoholism, associates with morbid philosophical influences and restless traveling.
The expressions of anxiety, unhappiness, fear and grief resonated with those who viewed his art, and he became a widely sought out and influential artist, beyond his native Norway and particularly in Germany, where he lived and worked for many years.
He was one of the founders of the Expressionist school, in which color, line and the delineation of recognizable objects are distorted at will for emotional effect; often, as in Munch’s case, centering on anxiety, fear, despair and spiritual angst. As in many expressionist works, the dark emotional tone is often belied by a palette of intense colors.
Not all of his works are as negatively charged or emotionally dark as his signature pieces, many are more straightforward and representational, and in his early years, even impressionistic.
In addition to his work as a painter, Munch was a printmaker and created etchings, wood engravings and lithographs. There is an exhibition of 40 prints that will be at the National Gallery of Scotland from 19 September to 6 December, 2009. The exhibit is from from the Munch Museum in Oslo, which is dedicated to his prints.
In his paintings, Munch was concerned with the effects of color, and the way one’s perception of a scene could change with time of day or emotional state; saying: “The fact is that at different times you see with different eyes. You see differently in the morning from in the evening. The way in which one sees also depends on one’s mood…”