In Berlin Munch won the recognition of the leaders of the intellectual and cultural life of that city. He established relationships that gave him devoted supporters and others which led ultimately to very substantial patronage. In these first years, however, the financial rewards were few. When success did come later it was first in the form of critical acclaim--'more honor than gold' as Munch used to write to his aunt. It was possibly disappointment at the small results of his strenuous efforts to win purchasers that led Munch to decide to go back to Paris.
He had thought of this move in 1894 and he did go early in 1896. It is possible that Paris seemed more promising because of the interest that Scandinavian dramatists were creating there. In the letter of 1894 in which he speaks of Paris he relates that he has met Lugné Poë, the producer of Ibsen in that city. Munch remained in Paris through all of 1896 and most of 1897. He exhibited his paintings twice in what must have been very favorable conditions, yet he appears to have had less material success than in Berlin; his work left only the faintest impression in France.
His first exhibition was at Bing's gallery, 'L'Art Nouveau,' the second to be held at an establishment famous for giving its name to the well-known decorative style of the nineties. Strindberg wrote a poetic account of the paintings in 'La Revue Blanche.' In the following year Munch showed the subjects of his cycle again at the Salon des Indépendants. Gustave Coquiot, in his history of these salons and the artists who took part in them, makes the mere comment that 1897 was notable for the paintings of Douanier Rousseau and Signac. The few writings in French on Munch are more an indication of the curiosity and taste of individual Frenchmen than of any general awareness among writers or artists of Munch's significance.
That Munch was in touch with some of the leading figures in Paris is shown by the fact that he made a programme for 'Peer Gynt' for Poë's Théâtre de L'Œuvre and a lithograph portrait of Mallarmé The pioneer dealer in advanced moderns, Vollard, included one print by Munch in one of his publications of modern print-makers, but no other important commercial house seems to have noticed Munch. Clovis Sagot, a minor buyer and seller of pictures, who appears later as one of the first to buy from the young Picasso, is said to have bought from Munch after the 1897 exhibition.
What little evidence Munch himself offers on the Paris period is in the few letters to his family that have been preserved and published. As before, many of his companions were Scandinavians. During the first part of 1896 Strindberg is mentioned, also the poet Obstfelder. He seems to have been intimate with the English composer Delius whom he may have known in Norway; for he not only mentions him in a letter of this time, but later when he returned to Paris for a short visit he stayed with him. Many years later when they were together in Wiesbaden he made several portraits of him in lithograph.
Munch's chief activity in Paris was as a graphic artist. In 1894 he had made his first prints, eight etchings and one lithograph, the initial essays in what was to become a most important part of his work. During the next year in Berlin the number of prints increased with a much larger proportion of lithographs. 1896 was one of the most productive years of his whole career.
The prints of the first years are especially close in subject to the paintings. The important works of the eighties as well as the new subjects of the early nineties were transposed into etching and lithography. The procedure of going over the same subject again and again was carried out now in prints; many themes exist in more than one graphic medium and Munch often took the pains to execute the plate or stone in reverse so that the print follows the disposition of the painting and is not a mirror image of it.
The styles that had been established in painting were carried over to the graphic works. Thus diversity of the painting manners was continued in the prints. Yet Munch tried to exploit the special potentialities of each medium, and from the beginning made prints that can be considered as studies of this problem. Toward the end of the nineties the proportion of subjects repeated from painting grew less, but repetitions of paintings never entirely disappeared. At the same time Munch's works in each medium took on a more separate character. This was especially true of woodcut, the last technique that Munch attempted.
Munch's first prints were etchings in drypoint, a technique which he always favored and which he often combined with aquatint. Pure etching is less frequently employed. Munch handles the etcher's needle with great sensitiveness. This is particularly evident in the drypoint portraits where the flexibility of line possible in this technique permits delicate drawing and strong accents of dark. The hatched drypoint line gives the luminous darks necessary to recreate the atmosphere of the paintings of the eighties and early nineties. Aquatint gives the flat areas of tone which serve to recreate the broad areas of color in the paintings, as in Summer Night.
Munch is more conventional in his etchings than in any other medium. He masters the established methods and applies them to the particular problems of his art, but aside from a few experiments with zincographs, some of which he printed from hand-colored plates, he does not succeed in finding new qualities. The extreme delicacy and complexity of modern etching methods no doubt presented difficulties when it came to transposing bold effects and the simplified forms of his painting. Fewer subjects of the paintings appear in the etchings, and Munch used this medium less than the others. On the other hand, he favored etching for portraits.
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