Tag Archives: Edvard Munch

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?

Edvard Munch – Maiden and the Heart

11 Feb

And “love” is just a miserable lie
You have destroyed my flower-like life
Not once – twice
You have corrupt my innocent mind
Not once – twice.

(The Smiths, Miserable Lie)

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944), Maiden and the Heart, 1896

Edvard Munch’s etching shows a nude girl sitting outdoors, on the grass, surrounded by a few scarce flowers. She turned her back on us, showing off the beautiful line of her arching back. We cannot meet her gaze, but seen from the profile her furrowed brow allows us to assume that the feelings mounting in her soul are that of sadness or pain. Our attention immediately leads somewhere else. In her stretched hands she is holding a heart; live, bleeding, crimson red (we can imagine), pulsating, aching, painful heart. From about 1894, Munch was getting more and more interested in woodcuts and etchings, and he was skilful in those art forms as well as in standard oil on canvas.

Paintings of Edvard Munch nearly always explore deep, profound themes and states of the soul; anxiety and alienation, loneliness, death and despair, love and pain, and the crown of his themes is love as a source of anguish and pain. The sorrowful Maiden who is holding the bleeding heart in her hands is a visually simple etching, without too much detail, but the longer you gaze at it the more feelings it evokes, the more depth you see in it. Often used, and overused phrases such as “heart ache” or “broken heart” suddenly get a new exciting flair when I gaze at Munch’s interpretation of the subject. The idea of portraying pain so literally and so directly has so much of childlike straightforwardness and honesty in it. A broken heart is presented as a real bleeding thing that the Maiden can hold in her hand just as she would hold a book or a flower, and her hands and her feet are coloured with the crimson blood which drips, sweet and sticky as honey, on the grass, while the flowers listen, their petals full of worry. The trees in the background, silent and sketch-like, are mute to her pain.

Frida Kahlo, Memory (The Heart), 1937

I simply adore the idea of expressing pain so directly! In her painting “Memory (The Heart)”, Frida Kahlo did a similar thing. The oversized bleeding heart is meant to portray the pain inflicted by Diego Rivera’s affair with her younger sister.

Vincent van Gogh, Sorrow, 1882

Simple lines, expressiveness and pain of Munch’s etching reminded me of a famous drawing called “Sorrow” that Vincent van Gogh made in 1882. It shows Vincent’s friend Sien, at the time a sad, destitute pregnant woman prone to drinking, mostly likely working as a prostitute. Such simplicity of lines and depth of emotions in both works. I usually love Van Gogh’s rapturous mad yellows and Munch’s strong whirling, almost psychedelic brushstrokes but here the black line on white background is all I need. Perhaps the colour is an excess when the subject is such an intense emotion?

Edvard Munch – The Lonely Ones (Two People)

8 Feb

In this post we’ll take a look at Edvard Munch’s painting “The Lonely Ones”.

Edvard Munch, The Lonely Ones (Two People), 1895

A man and a woman are standing on the shore, gazing at the sea. The waves crush on to the shore as the two of them stand there in silence, just one step away from each other, and yet emotionally distant. The whiteness of her dress stands in contrast with his sombre black suit, which visually further connects the insurmountable difference between the sexes. The murmur of the sea, louder than their loneliness, matches the turmoil that rises in their soul. Are they a couple who just had an argument, or two lovers who have, after being drunken with love, now sobered and realised that nothing, not even their love, will spare them the loneliness and feeling of isolation that they experience as individuals, that they are forced to face the world alone, that one is alone even when they are holding a loved one in their arms?

Turquoise and pink rocks on the beach and the sea waves take on psychedelic shapes as Munch swirls with his brush just as he did in the famous “Scream”. As hopes crush into bitter disappointments, the reality fails to make sense and the man and the woman gaze longingly at the sea searching answers to their inner voids. In his book about Munch, J.P. Hodin writes: “It is as if Schopenhauer’s Metaphysics of Sexual Love were represented in the medium of painting. Man and woman are like elements which come into contact, obsess one another but cannot become united. Woman is an enigma to man, a sphinx which he must always contemplate searchingly.”

Still, that disconnection, this misunderstanding between man and a woman alone on the shore reminds me more of something that Erich Fromm wrote in The Art of Loving: “Man is gifted with reason; he is life being aware of itself he has awareness of himself, of his fellow man, of his past, and of the possibilities of his future. This awareness of himself as a separate entity, the awareness of his own short life span, of the fact that without his will he is born and against his will he dies, that he will die before those whom he loves, or they before him, the awareness of his aloneness and separateness, of his helplessness before the forces of nature and of society, all this makes his separate, disunited existence an unbearable prison. He would become insane could he not liberate himself from this prison and reach out, unite himself in some form or other with men, with the world outside.

Edvard Munch, Separation II, 1896

In “Separation” above we again see a man and a woman, together on canvas yet painfully and deeply alone, drifting into opposite directions, aimlessly like paper boats on the lake. His dark eyelids are closed, his mouth mute. Her long hair seems to be flying in the wind, caressing his shoulder, stirring the silence with its murmur, mingling with the sweet nocturnal air. The striking titles of many of Munch’s paintings point at his desire to portray the whole range of different emotions and states: separation, loneliness, fear, anguish, consolation, pain…

Connecting love with pain, and ultimately loneliness, is a theme often exploited in the world of art and poetry, but Edvard Munch and his contemporaries in the decadent and spiritually rotting society of fin de scle had a particular penchant for it, to the point of rejecting love or a lover. In his youth, Munch was shy and reticent, not much is known about his relationships with women apart from the fact that they brought bitter disappointments, and he tended to fear any signs of affection or closeness because they most certainly carried anguish with them. Holdin again writes: “Love turned into distrust of woman. When Nietzsche spoke of love he saw it as the eternal war, the mortal hatred between the sexes. ‘Man fears woman when he loves, he fears her when he hates.”

Munch was a friend with many writers of the days and he was influenced by their writings and their ideas. Swedish playwright Strindberg was similarly interested in conflicts of love, and in 1897 wrote in his diary: “What is Woman? The enemy of friendship, the inevitable scourge, the necessary evil, the natural temptation, the longed for misfortune, a never ending source of tears, the poor masterpiece of creation in an aspect of dazzling white. Since the first woman contracted with the devil, shall not her daughters do the same? Just as she was created from a crooked rib, so is her entire nature crooked and warped and inclined to evil.

Edvard Munch, Consolation, 1894

Holdin ends his thoughts about the paintings “The Lonely Ones” with a glimpse of hope: “No, Munch does not hate woman, for he realizes that she has to suffer as he suffers himself.” How splendid of him to console us!

Painters that inspire me the most…

6 Jul

Though I absolutely adore many artists, not all of them inspire me in painting. I love Fragonard for example, but I could hardly be inspired by his stiff ladies in pastoral setting, dressed in their finest rose coloured silk gowns; that’s to idealistic, art needs to be more raw, filled with melancholy or anger or despair for me to like it. Other artists, on the other hand, inspire me with almost all of their paintings. I’ll present you the nine painters that inspire me the most.

1877. Degas - The Green Dancers

Degas

I hope you already know what great passion I have for Degas; I absolutely adore his ballerinas and he’s probably my favourite Impressionist. Degas is the proof that one subject, such as ballerinas in this case, can be painted over and over again, every time interpreted in a different way. Claude Monet did something similar, painting the Rouen Cathedral more than thirty times, each time observing the change of light. Back to the subject, I love Degas’ work in general because when I look at his paintings I feel like I’m there, like I am the candle that lightens the stage. His paintings have a very intimate feel.

1873. The Railway by Manet

Manet

Manet is one of my favourite Impressionist too; his simple approach to painting, rebellious spirit and Victorine Meurent as his muse and a model have all drawn me into exploring his work. I love how he painted every day life scenes; Parisian cafes, courtesans, ladies, absinth drinkers…

1888. Starry Night Over the Rhone - van gogh

1889. The Starry Night - van gogh

Van Gogh

I’m not a die-hard Van Gogh fan, but admire his work greatly and the two paintings you see above are my favourite paintings by him, they’re called Starry Night Over the Rhone and The Starry Night. The striking thing about these paintings is how you can see the brush strokes and still, with that heavy, relief coat of colour the paintings seem dreamy and magical, it’s amazing. And the stars seem so cheerful, as if they’re playing on the indigo sky above the sleeping town.

1888. Mardi gras (Pierrot et Arlequin) - Cezanne

1898. The Bathers (Cézanne)

Cezanne

Another Post-Impressionist, Cezanne, is influential on my art because I find his work to be daring with a rather different approach. The water colours you see above are one of my favourite paintings by him, not to mention his series of skulls which show his concern with transience. I like how real this water colour painting seems, you can really see the brush strokes and he used only two basic colours; yellow and blue which shows the simplicity in which he executed his work.

1878. La Buveuse d'absinthe - Felicien Rops

Felicien Rops

What I like about Felicien Rops’ paintings is the provocative way in which he painted, at first sight, ordinary subject. This painting, for example, is called La Buveuse d’Absinthe, and though Rops is not the first who elaborated this theme, he’s certainly the first who had done it in this rough way. If you look at this painting, you’ll see it appears more like a sketch rather than a finished painting. So ahead of his time, Rops painted this back in 1878. when the painting had to be perfectly detailed and executed in order to be presentable and accepted by the conservative public.

1891. James Ensor, Skeletons Fighting Over a Hanged Man

James Ensor

I first became acquainted with Ensor’s work in late December 2013. and since then I’ve studied his paintings in detail. Far more important than considered, Ensor was crucial in the development of both Expressionism and Surrealism. His paintings mostly feature the same elements; skeletons which he used as an allegory. In his paintings skeletons wear masks and are depicted the same as humans. Ensor was the innovator of the 19th century art and there for his paintings are a foundation for the twentieth century art.

The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893

Edvard Munch

Painting The Scream is perhaps one of my favourite paintings ever. I love the vibrant colours, strong contrasts and the helplessness and agony of that man. I find the crooked, restless and hectic atmosphere of the painting very inspirational. It almost seems as if it was done at one brush stroke, at one moment. The painting is very, very expressive.

1918. Hébuterne by Modigliani

Amedeo Modigliani

I have a great passion for Modigliani’s work. Melancholic spirit captivates all his portraits and nudes. Long-faced, sad beauties,that gaze thoughtfully at their dreary and lonely surrounding. The sadness that pervades his paintings is very inspirational to me and I like how dreamy the ladies on his paintings seem. His portraits, particularly this portrait of Jeanne, seem so realistic, yet so beautiful and magical.

1890. Bal au Moulin Rouge  - Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

 Henry de Toulouse-Lautrec

And finally, the famous Henry de Toulouse-Lautrec, a Post-Impressionistic painter who depicted the Parisian night life; courtesans, theatres, Montmarte and elegant ladies in provocative, elegant and rather exciting approach. His painting stand as a colourful ending of the nineteenth century.

Of course, these are not all the artists that I seek inspiration from. Others are: George de Feuer, Klimt, Soutine…