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Edvard Munch was a painter who is considered among the most influential individuals in the development of expressionism in art. His art bears a distinctive imprint of psychological anguish and often resorts to the controversial themes related to sexuality, illness, and the origins of the supernatural. Partially traced back to certain details of his biography, these elements of Munch’s art paved the way for German expressionism and surrealism.
Inspirations from Personal Life
During his early years, Munch frequently witnessed severe illnesses and life-threatening conditions. In at least two cases, this resulted in the deaths of the embers of his family – his mother and sister (“Edvard Munch”). The perpetual anxiety and pressing threat of tragic events was enhanced by the interpretation offered by his father, who considered both deaths an act of divine punishment. The combined effect of these factors can be detected in the majority of the artist’s works that often depict suffering and anxiety caused by the vulnerability.
Another important influence on the artist’s life that is reflected in his artwork is his views on human sexuality. Munch was interested in finding freedom from the social conformity and considered sex one of the elements that contribute to the emotional and social liberation of the individual. It must also be acknowledged that the beginning of the twentieth century is regarded as a turning point in the paradigm of human sexuality and its connection to psychology. This paradigm shift inevitably found its way into the art domain and was definitely among the factors that shaped Munch’s perception of sexual experience as a manifestation of subliminal psychological effects.
Finally, it must be acknowledged that the works from the later period of his career are noticeably more cheerful and optimistic than the dark and unsettling earlier works. This change in tone and mood correlates with the artist’s return to his hometown in Norway, where he remained until his death (“Edvard Munch and his Paintings”).
Generally speaking, the approach chosen by Munch is consistent with the symbolism. The overwhelming majority of the artworks, both from the early and the late period of his career emphasize the internal characteristics of the depicted objects rather than their apparent external representation. Thus, the emotional and idealistic nature of things is prioritized over their physical properties. In early Munch’s works, the emphasis is usually on psychological unrest and anxiety, often related to a physical illness. The piece that is both well-known and highly representative of the described characteristics is Scream (1893). The depicted setting is highly suggestive of the abnormal psychological state of the subject and is commonly believed to describe the artist’s experience of visiting his sister in the mental hospital. Another important piece, Sick Child (1885), addresses the theme of illness and loss more directly, through the depiction of a scene at the bedside of the girl who is apparently in the grave physical state. The painting bears a clear reference to Munch’s sister who died at an early age. Finally, confusion and frustration are common themes in his works, which is most prominently featured in Puberty (1894) – the portrait of a naked girl who casts a deep and threatening shadow.
Munch’s artworks of the early period are clearly influenced by the events of his personal life. The illness, death, and, by extension, the feelings of restlessness and vulnerability set the tone for most of his works and influence both the overall presentation and the thematic choices. I believe that the most significant takeaway from the research paper is the interconnection between the subliminal and the evident influences. I think that while it is unclear whether these inspirations were conscious, it is necessary to be aware of them to fully understand the work of art.
“Edvard Munch.” The Art Story, n.d., Web.
“Edvard Munch and his Paintings.” Edvardmunch.org, n.d., Web.