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THE STORY OF Edvard Munch

GREGORY AYVAZOV

There aren’t many artworks that receive instantaneous recognition outside of the circles of art lover circles. The Scream is one of the rare exceptions - so ingrained it has been included in contemporary popular culture. Beyond the Scream stands a harrowingly beautiful and incredibly impactful body of work by a man strong enough to turn tragedies into masterpieces, who chose to live and face his demons everyday by reconciling them through art. 

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The Scream

Edvard Munch, born in 1863, in a Norwegian town called Adalsburk was not spared a difficult childhood. Munch’s mother was taken by tuberculosis – an agonizing and protracted death the future artist lived through at the tender age of five. Munch’s father, unable to deal with the tragedy, became a heavy drinker and removed himself from the life of his children who were taken care of by their aunt. One of Munch’s sisters shared their mother’s dreadful fate – the same disease took her when she was only fifteen. Another sister was diagnosed with mental illness and spent much of her life in institutionalized care. One would not blame Munch for saying - “The Angels of Fear, Sorrow and Death stood by my side since the day I was born”. 

The traumatic experiences that Munch had as a child resulted in the artist’s own intermittent struggle with mental illness and found a healthy escape and expression through his art. For example, it’s likely that he became aware of death and its uncannily random nature precociously, which in turn had a striking influence on his psyche. 

After a brief affair with impressionism and pointillism that were in vogue down in France at the time (the fruits of which include ‘Spring on the Karl’s Street’), the Norwegian artist developed his own uniquely psychological and evocative style. Quickly, his backgrounds became abstracted with the focus shifting away from depicting nature realistically to showing feelings and emotions through colour and composition. Jealousy, an emotion, Munch wrote he experienced repeatedly acutely throughout his life makes for the subject of a series of paintings. 

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Spring on the Karl’s Street

The Frieze of Life is the artist’s most famous series, which includes the world-famous Scream. Here's a description of how the scream was born to Munch: “I was walking along the road with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature”. 

Not all of Munch’s work is dark, the “Starry Night” is a portrayal of a breathtakingly beautiful night sky of a Norwegian town where the artist is from. Munch also had a very introspective series of autoportraits which, done throughout all his life, are intensely psychoanalytical.

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Starry Night

Having changed his lifestyle from one filled with alcohol and amorous adventures to a more serene one, Munch’s subject matter changed. In the second half of his life Munch painted the famous Aula for the University of Oslo in which the absolute sun radiates spirit and life. In his sunset years Munch dedicated himself to pondering everyday life and his inner self, which can be seen through his work.

The artist passed peacefully in his sleep at the age of eighty. Having lived a life endowed with hardship that he converted into art that we are lucky enough to contemplate today.  

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University of Oslo