He was always fascinated by his own image, and countless self portraits reflect the extent of his introspection. Like the German painter Max Beckmann, he repeatedly asks, "What am I? This is the question that constantly persecutes and torments me." Munch strips to the inner man, a creation of the nerves and senses as well as blood and flesh. Three self portraits are reproduced here, but figures in other works often assume his own features -- the lover in The Kiss, the rival in Jealousy.
In the lithographed self portrait of 1895, a skeletal arm is the only suggestion of a body beneath the sensitively delineated, intelligent and expressive mask. The large standing figure cut a year later appears more austere and aloof. The lithograph of the mid-twenties, a repetition of a painting of 1906, exposes a lonely man brooding in a dismal café. None of these portraits is graced by happiness.
All might illustrate J. B. Neumann's memories of Munch, a figure impressive as a man as well as an artist: austere, solitary, preoccupied, dominating yet kind, generous, often tender. "He was sad. Perhaps he had castigated himself too much. His dreams were gone. The stage was bare, only mind and nature played on it." The fear of insanity which had harassed Munch for many years became a reality in 1908. The anxieties of love and hate, the pessimism that shrouds his work, had been confessions of his own tortured soul. He had found no permanent home or attachments. Immoderate drinking had heightened his hostilities. The dark wings of madness beat down upon him.
He left Germany and entered a clinic in Denmark where he remained several months. For distraction he drew studies of animals in the zoo at Copenhagen and composed the suite of litliographs Alpha and Omega. His treatment in the sanatorium was, outwardly, successful; the breakdown had at least served as a catharsis. He returned to Norway.
During the next thirty years the range of his vision increased. He revealed the harmonies of nature rather than conflicts of self and, in the landscapes and outdoor life of his native Norway, he perhaps at last found refuge. As an artist, however, the quality of his earlier graphic work resurged chiefly in the reworking of previous themes -- his most important inspiration sprang from the neurotic tensions of his youth rather than from the healthy, even athletic, objectivity of his maturity.
The fact that Munch's work is literary needs no defense. More interested in content than in the solution of esthetic problems, his imagination was fevered by deep personal reactions to the world around him. He has been compared to Redon and Ensor. But Redon's visions were dreams, not nightmares, and the grotesque fantasy of Ensor remains essentially Flemish. Munch's revelations were cultivated by passion, with terror and perhaps, like Baudelaire's, with delight.
It is difficult to place the solitary figure of Edvard Munch in any summary of modern art. The foremost artist Scandinavia has produced, he was a contemporary of the post-impressionists in France and the senior of Bonnard and Vuillard. Munch worked, however, far into the twentieth century and died in 1944. Like his contemporary, Toulouse-Lautrec, it is in printmaking rather than in painting that his art reveals its chief significance; and, more than any other artist, he is the father of expressionism in Germany. He produced more than 700 prints, and in the lithograph and in the woodcut his melancholy found its clearest statement.
For many years Munch's most dependable source of income derived from the sale of his prints. His work had received its first recognition in Germany, and museums and collectors formed large holdings of his prints. One of the earliest and most comprehensive retrospectives of his graphic oeuvre was organized by J. B. Neumann in Berlin in 1915.
In the United States his paintings, unfortunately, are seldom seen. A large survey of his art, however, was organized by James Plaut in 1950. The exhibition in Boston and Cambridge and in New York at the Museum of Modern Art was accompanied by the publication of Frederick B. Deknatel's monograph, the only book on Munch in English. Today, both here and abroad, his prints have become increasingly rare, indeed the best examples are almost unprocurable. This small volume gathers together a selection from American collections.
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