Train Smoke, 1900
During the period of the first years in Berlin Munch achieved the position of an independent and mature artist. Uncertainties of direction no longer existed as they had in the years just past. The different styles in which he had then worked had been the result of his exploration of alternative possibilities in painting.
Now many things had been dropped, Impressionism among them; and the diverse elements which remained had been subjected to a process of simplification. One expressive purpose was served throughout, even though in single paintings only a few elements of the diverse repertoire were used. Moreover, the few means of each painting were manipulated with the consistency and effectiveness of a mature painter.
This unity and consistency of Munch's art--the style of this phase of his career--is of an exceptional and, in fact, precarious order. His major effort, the paintings of the subjects of the Frieze of Life, have nothing of a frieze-like quality when looked at together. They differ in size, scale, degree of abstraction or of representation of nature, and in technique. They have in common the fact that their themes are related and that each is conveyed with the maximum visual impact possible, regardless of overall visual harmony.
Munch once wrote 'Art is crystallization'; these paintings seem crystallizations of his ideas of the fate of the individual man and woman in the grip of the forces of life and death. There is no parallel in the painting of his contemporaries to Munch's subordinating consistency of form and handling to communication of his ideas. Yet the concept of art as communication is an old idea which has an important place in the thought of the Romantic period, for example in Delacroix.
Munch's extreme position means that he disregarded the two main concepts of the nature of form in painting on which the art of the second half of the nineteenth century rested. In the more important, such form and color are determined by the painter's relationship to the external world. Broken color in paint as the equivalent of pure visual experience in Impressionism, and the revolutionary structure of color and forms in Cézanne's painting derived from his subtle analysis of the relation of color to twoand three-dimensional effects in nature, are both products of this view.
The other concept, often held concurrently with the first to a greater or less degree, considers that forms have inherent qualities and is concerned with revealing these by contrasts and harmonies among the forms themselves. This is the idealism which was becoming more pronounced in the French school toward the end of the century and on which we have touched in connection with Gauguin. In either case, the effort of the painter is to develop his means according to logic and method, and we are accustomed to trace the evolution of a painter's style in terms of stepby-step changes in technique and in the way his forms are related, which correspond to the changes in his attitude toward nature or to the forms themselves.
Munch does resemble his great French contemporaries in seeking to use forms in their most simple and unambiguous character. For this reason he can be in debt to the French school, and to Gauguin in particular; and can also be one of those who create new forms. But fundamentally he differs from them all, even from painters of imagination and fantasy like Odilon Redon and the Belgian Ensor who created a manner of painting calculated to convey the subjective character of their visions.
The precariousness of Munch's artistic position is in its dependence on a particular state of mind which was almost independent, in the last analysis, of the actual procedure of creating a picture, and, as time proved, was unable to survive as conditions in his own life changed. Although this attitude originated before the Berlin years, the powerful way it absorbed Munch there is evidence of the effect of the Berlin environment on him. Aspects of this phase continued to be important inhis later work after more solid bases for his art had been found.
Edvard Munch, Impressionism, Edvard Munch Biography, Munch Paintings, Munch Drawings, The Scream, Ash 1894, Bathing Man, Mermaid on the Shore, The Murderer, Separation, The Dance of Life, Madeban Auf Dem Pier, Jealousy, Young Girl on a Jetty, The Girls on the Pier, Four Girls on a Bridge, The Kiss, Girl with Red Hair, Lady From the Sea, Madonna 1895, Portrait of Madame Cézanne, Summer Night at the Beach, Girl on a Bridge, Summer Night at Asgarstrand, Vampire, White and Red, Madonna 1894, Bathing Man, The Sun, Moonlight
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