Exactly 9 days ago from today, in Löten, Norway, 1863, was born a Munch.

Edvard Munch, photo, undated. Media Commons

The man responsible for The Scream, a painting ubiquitous from pop culture on the internet to books in libraries, had rather a sad and tragic initial period of his life.

The Scream, Edvard Munch, 1893. Nasjonalmuseet

His mother died of tuberculosis when he was five years old, an event that resulted in his first masterpiece The Sick Child. His sister died when he was fourteen and his father and brother some time later.

“Illness, insanity, and death were the black angels that kept watch over my cradle and accompanied me all my life.” -E. Munch

One of his sisters suffered psychological illness.

Such events at the start of his life influenced much of his work, which has symbolism and imagery around themes of anxiety, suffering due to love, paranoia, horror and fear.

Anxiety (original title; Angst), Edvard Munch, 1894. Wikiart

He was an Expressionist and express he did, along with his painting, with a life of drinking and brawling, nihilism and a constantly disappointed father. One who often reprimanded him for his art when Munch was a teen, even going so far as to destroy a nude he painted when he moved up from drawing and watercolor to oil. After his fathers death he left the family, suicidal thoughts close at his heels. Thus, his art took on a symbolic form, within which seeped his inner state and emotional turmoil, the world less as it was and more as he lived in it.

Edvard Munch had many idiosyncrasies and beliefs that put him in the path of persecution and suffering. Some involved enmity with his neighbors, getting back at his older circle of friends from Kristiania (now Oslo) and the considering of his paintings as his children. He often made other versions of his paintings as they sold. He also never married.

Within Munch's period of painting as you observe it from start to finish, one finds a turning point around the earlier 1900s where his painting gets a bit brighter and perhaps, a bit more positive.

The Night Wanderer, self portrait, Edvard Munch, 1923–24. Wikiart

This is when he had a mental breakdown, a culminating surrender of his mind under the pressure of all that it carried. After this detachment from reality, complete with hallucination and paranoia, he pursued treatment which included therapy, a controlled diet and electrotherapy. Thereafter, his paintings were more vibrant and less intense.

In addition to painting he also dabbled in photography, with a lot of selfies, and wood etching/cutting. Lithography was also a favorite technique. some version of The Sick Child were made in lithography by him.

The Kiss 1, woodcut, Edvard Munch, 1897. Munchmuseet

It is reasonable to assume that a lack of formal training as an artist contributed to his diverse use of mediums and versatile approach to art.

Edvard Munch and Ludvig Ravensberg, Åsgårdstrand, Collodion, Edvard Munch, 1904. Munchmuseet

The photographic work of Munch was intriguingly personal. He took photos of himself, his friends, various scenes and backgrounds and then some more of himself, this time nude. He employed a colloid or silver gelatin photographic film and sometimes exposed it twice to create interesting compositions.

He died at 80 years old, in his house at Ekely. His death was on 23 January 1944 and his funeral was orchestrated by nazis, which threw caution to the winds to the Norwegians about him being a sympathizer to their cause. But later such assertions were thrown out as it was a mere act of appropriation by the nationalists, of the free spirited artist. The German supremacists even characterized his work as “degenerate art”.

His work is now curated by the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo and his face is now on the Norwegian currency. A testament, that as long as Norway stands, Edvard Munch will be remembered.

The Norwegian Kroner

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