Tag Archives: Tuberculosis

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?

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Consumption – A Romantic Disease

17 May

‘I should like to die from consumption.’ said Lord Byron, helping to popularize tuberculosis as an artist’s disease.

In the nineteenth century consumption was such a popular disease that it was dubbed The White Plague, mal de vivir and mal du siecle. It gained popularity in Romantic era, due to Lord Byron, and was seen as a sign of sensitivity, spiritual purity and temporal wealth. Young ladies begun purposefully paling their skin in order to achieve the consumptive appearance and they also dropped belladonna into their eyes for it dilated their pupils, giving the eyes luminous glow.

The slow progress of the disease meant that the sufferer could have time to arrange his affairs. In those times, one could only hope to die from consumption. Amedeo Modigliani, whom I have written about in my last post, also died from consumption in 1920., though in his times it was not considered so romantic anymore as it took many and many lives in Paris. Chopin had died from consumption, and George Sand doted her lover, calling him her ‘poor melancholy angel’. She also wrote in a letter to her friend ‘Chopin coughs with infinite grace’.

Quite strange, and unbelievable, that once it was popular to die from such a disease. Lord Byron’s wish was not fulfilled for he died from fever.