Edvard Munch – Spring

10 Mar

Edvard Munch, Spring, 1889

At last spring has won the battle against winter and now the soft breeze and mellow sunlight are coming through the open window, flowers started blooming and a little sparrow is ready to sit on the windowsill and sing a little ditty to brighten up the lonely days of this weak and ill young girl. In this simple, almost genre-scene, Edvard Munch managed to convey so much depth and emotion. The most poignant detail in the painting is the girl’s mute ghost-like pale face with eyelids almost closed. While the sun bathes the room in warm yellowish glow, she is turning her head away from it, symbolically turning away from the life and lightness, gazing in the distance with watery eyes that saw the other side of the grave. Her small head, with that sad and gentle face, resting on the white pillow awakens empathy and compassion in the viewer because you get the sense that death has started living inside her, just the same as spring has started being alive outdoors. Her face radiates calmness and spiritual beauty, but the stillness that envelops the room is illusive, for the moment of death is yet to come and the scene we are looking at is merely the calm before the storm. The end of the long struggle and pain is near, and her soul will soon be dancing with the pure white daisies in the meadow. Stylistically, it is not Munch is his full Expressionist frenzy, but thematically, his obsession with death and the awareness of it is prevalent.

Death was Munch’s silent bride and his most faithful companion since his childhood; his mother died from tuberculosis when Munch was only five years old, his dearest sister Johanne Sophie died from same malaise in 1877 at the age of fourteen, and he himself was of frail health. The death of his sister affected him deeply and he returned to this sense of loss and tragedy numerous times in his artistic career, making many versions of the painting “The Sick Child”. Here, in “Spring”, he portrayed the same event.

Edvard Munch, The Sick Child, 1885-86, the original version

It was with this painting, “The Sick Child”, that Munch departed from Impressionism and for the first time painted in a style which would later be called Expressionism. The theme was such that is needed depth and emotions, and a new style. It’s interesting that in “Spring”, which was painted a few years later, he returned, for a moment, to a more Realistic style of painting which looks more similar to some Victorian genre-scenes than the art Munch is known for. Where did this artistic “regression” arise from?

2 Responses to “Edvard Munch – Spring”

  1. Eric Wayne 12th Mar 2018 at 4:14 am #

    I’m not a huge fan of Munch, though I would assume I would be based on what is written about him. I tend to find his mature work too rounded for my tastes. Though I do rather like the ones with the celestial glowing balls and reflections in the water, like an inverted exclamation point.

    That said, this painting is obviously spectacular. I could take just the right half. My favorite detail the window. There’s a cactus, and then flowers mostly covered by transparent drapery. It’s a very sophisticated interplay of light, translucence, and how light is transformed through the window and the drapery together. It’s a study in how physical paint can achieve the appearance of light penetrating matter. How does one achieve this? Not just through thinning the paint, but through juxtaposing strokes of color to insinuate the background coming through the foreground.

    Notice the bit of drapery that covers the floor in an inverted arc, and how that needs to be treated differently than the rest of the drapery.

    And then the left half could work as a Hopper, especially the woman on the far left (who looks precisely like on of Hopper’s women). Here Munch’s simplification of forms, which are nevertheless heightened by the use of lighting, shading, and modeling presages Hopper’s iconic works.

    The biographical content you mentioned, and the meditation on sickness and death add depth and meaning. For me, though, the technical bravado alone makes this a masterpiece.

    Thanks for sharing this image and your eloquent description.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Byron's Muse 12th Mar 2018 at 7:05 pm #

      Thank you for reading and commenting! I’m glad you liked it. You know what, I am not huge fan of Munch either! I am all for art that evokes dreams, fantasy, the past, and Munch doesn’t really fit into that, and yet I have recently been beguiled by some of his paintings, including this one. You are right about the beautifully painted curtain; I am always amazed at how light is painted in art; light of a candle, light of the sun falling on things, on dresses in Monet’s paintings of women in gardens… It’s interesting that the left side reminded you of Hopper; what a wonderful observation! I would never have thought of that myself but now you have intrigued me, I’ll admit it.

      Liked by 1 person

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