What must have been the most important examples of Munch's paintings as products of the Christiania Bohemia, The Day After and Puberty, are lost in their original versions of 1886, but each subject was painted again in 1894. The former is far closer in subject and treatment to the work of his contemporaries in the eighties. The carefully observed details tell the story--the dishevelled young woman with unbuttoned blouse, her posture on the bed of restless, intoxicated sleep, the empty bottles and used glasses on the table. The subject, of course, exactly accords with the themes of the novels of Jaeger and Krohg.
Puberty depends hardly at all on the method of detailed description. It is possible that the form was changed more radically in the later version than was the case with The Day After. Here again is the sexual problem, now seen much more subjectively, seen indeed as it exists in the mind of a young girl. Nevertheless, the basically realistic approach separates this painting, as well as its companion, from other paintings of the middle nineties. The atmosphere of the lonely bedroom, with the emphasis on the light and shadow from a single source--doubtless a candle--beyond the picture-frame to the left, and the realistic details in the anatomy of the adolescent figure describe the conditions that produce the girl's thoughts.
The nature of these thoughts is revealed by the expression of the eyes, large and unfocused, the arms crossed in front of her body, and the hand unconsciously pressed between her knees. The fame of this painting rests on the way these things express a mingling of awareness, anticipation, and fear. Here Munch is obviously far more independent of established methods of procedure and the formulas of realism. Nevertheless, this probing into the beginnings of the consciousness of sex in an individual's life has a parallel in the autobiographical revelations of Hans Jaeger's novel. Munch's concern with erotic and sexual problems which we see beginning in the eighties is even stronger in the next decade and, in spite of the changes he and his painting underwent, is a continuation of the early train of thought.
The change in his point of view toward the forms of painting, so pronounced in the nineties, also had its early beginnings. Following the direction we have seen in Puberty, there is greater and greater concentration on bringing out in an expressive and sometimes dramatic way the essential content of his subject. Munch subordinates all his means to this purpose. The development is not a straight and simple one, but the outstanding works of the middle eighties show Munch's growing strength in this direction.
The Sick Child of 1885-86 is considered the finest example of his early work. Here, with very different means from those used in Puberty, there is a concentration on expression through the elimination of detail that Munch had not heretofore attempted. The opposition of the sick child's upright profile and the bowed head of the mother is the focus of the painting. Here the plasticity is concentrated, elsewhere the forms dissolve; and it is to this area where the accent is most of all on the child's head, that the color and composition direct the eye of the spectator.
The departure from the convention of solid, realistic painting brought adverse criticism when the painting was exhibited in 1886. According to an anecdote told by the painter himself his older contemporaries were by no means pleased. One of them said to him, 'I didn't think that was the kind of painting you were going to do.''Well,' Munch said he replied, 'everybody can't be painting nails and twigs.'
Even in the latest version of the painting in 1926 the basic character of the first is retained. The handling of the paint is in broader and freer strokes, and the paint is thinner. The accent on the girl's head is even stronger through the richness of the colors in that area. The very sensitive drawing of the original is more truly repeated, however, in the colored lithograph of 1896.
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