Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Illness, Madness and Death The world of Edvard Munch
and The Scream

from Dangerous Minds

Edvard Munch described his paintings as his children, and like children he believed they should go off into the world and have their own adventures. He therefore showed little interest in a painting once it was finished. It could be discarded in an outhouse, abandoned to the elements, damaged in its handling, and even on one occasion, a dog jumped through a canvas. Munch felt that these marks and mishaps added to the work.

I wonder what Munch’s would have thought of the exacting restoration of his paintings “The Scream” and “The Madonna”, after they had been damaged by robbers in 2004. The paintings had “humidity stains” and were badly ripped after removal from their frames. The restorers spent long, tiring hours ensuring the paintings were returned to their “original” state prior to the theft.

“The Scream” is Munch’s most famous painting, and it is the one which has taken on a life beyond the original pictures. Today you can buy “The Scream” printed on clocks, socks, t-shirts, key-rings, notebooks, mugs, dresses, inflatable punching bags and Internet memes.

Munch had been inspired to paint the picture after an evening stroll, as he noted in his journal 22 January 1892:

“One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became “The Scream’.”
He later wrote a more poetic version of his inspiration on the pastel version of “The Scream” (1895):
“I was walking along the road with two Friends / the Sun was setting – The Sky turned a bloody red / And I felt a whiff of Melancholy – I stood / Still, deathly tired – over the blue-black / Fjord and City hung Blood and Tongues of Fire / My Friends walked on – I remained behind / – shivering with Anxiety – I felt the great Scream in Nature – EM.”
But the inspiration for “The Scream” probably went further back than just one evening in Norway, it likely stemmed from his strange and oppressive childhood. Born into a middle class family in 1863, Munch was brought up in a household of strict religious observance, illness and death. When he was five his mother died of consumption. His sister suffered the same fate when Munch was fourteen. His father then went insane with grief, spending days praying, oblivious to the world. Another sister was schizophrenic and died in an institution. His childhood traumas were to bruise all of Munch’s life, as he later wrote:
“Illness, madness, and death were the black angels that kept watch over my cradle and accompanied me all my life.”

The first documentary gives fascinating examination of Edvard Munch’s life and work, while the second focuses on the story of his most famous painting, “an icon of modern art, a Mona Lisa for our time.”

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