Friday, January 23, 2009

Today in History: Edvard Munch

Today is kind of a sad day for me because it marks the 65th anniversary of one of Norway's the world's most prolific artists. Born in the village of Ådalsbruk in Løten, Munch's early life was one of sadness and loss, losing both his mother and his favorite sister to tuburculosis by the time he was 14 years old. This sadness, combined with the oppressive poverty of his remaining family would eventually express itself in his art. At the age of 18 he enrolled in Royal School of Art and Design of Kristiania and proved to be an adept atudent and artist very early on.

While he experimented with Naturalism and Ipressionism in his early carreer, he became best known for his later Expressionist and Symbolist works, like The Scream, Vampire and The Dance of Life (three of my favorites). He was also well kown for his self portraits and portraits of friends that were very raw and, in many cases, unflattering to the subject. In this way he attempted to express the cold realities of life in the world around him.

He spent the last two decades of his life and carreer on his self-sustained estate in Ekely, at Skøyen, Oslo. During this time his subject matter changed significantly in that many of his late paintings celebrate farm life, rather than exploring the issues of death, fear and melancholy. The only deaprture from this was his continued painting of unspairing self portraits.

The last 3 or 4 years of his life were spent in a sort of self-impose hermitage, hiding his works of art from the Nazis (out of fear that they would be confiscated). The Nazis had already confiscated nearly 80 of his painting from other galleries in Germany, calling the works "degenerate art" and "primitive international scratching." It should be noted here that of these, all but 11 eventually made their way back to Norway, with the remainder never having been recovered.

Sadly, it was on this day in 1944 that Edvard Munch passed away having never seen the end of the Nazi occupation of his beloved country. If that's not enough to break your heart, how about this--upon his death the Nazi government (the same govenrment who had called him a degenerate) orchestrated a funeral for Munch, which left the impression with Norwegians that he was a Nazi sympathizer.

If there is a bright spot in the story of Edvard Munch, its that his true legacy is still with us. As part of his last will and testament, Munch left all of his paintings to the city of Oslo, who opened a Munch Museum in 1963. Its collection consists of works and articles willed by Munch to the municipality of Oslo, additional works donated by his sister Inger Munch. As a result, the museum now has in its permanent collection well over half of the artist's entire production of paintings and at least one copy of all his prints. This amounts to over 1,100 paintings, 15,500 prints covering 700 motives, six sculptures, as well as 500 plates, 2,240 books, and various other items.

So, even though the artist is gone, his vision of the world is still with us. This is fitting for the man who once said "From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity."


Debbie said...

Wow; I didn't know much about his life but I certainly recognize his work. "The Scream" is one that I love and am most familiar with. Thank you for sharing this information. It's sad to read about the life of this great artist.

Sons of Norway said...

It is sad, Debbie, however he has left us with a legacy of art that people will continue to enjoy for a long time into the future.