Women on the Beach
The return to Norway in 1909 began a new mode of life for Munch. From the first years at Kragerø, to the final period which lasted almost thirty years when Ekely on the outskirts of Oslo was his home, the external aspects of his life remained the same. He lived alone and usually avoided people. He was not a recluse, however, as the portraits of his friends and the many personal reminiscences published after his death testify. He rarely saw members of his own family, but he kept in close touch with them by letter as he had always done, and provided for their support more generously now that his own income was ample.
As time went on, Munch became more and more indifferent about selling his paintings, and the demand from Germany and Scandinavia grew, so that no effort on his part was needed. Ultimately it became difficult to purchase directly from the artist. It is said that he did promote the sale of his prints and that this was an important source of income, especially during the twenties. This is borne out by the number of later printings and new states of his early works. Though his relations with the outside world were limited in these different ways, Munch retained his fondness for travel. He continued to go to Germany and Denmark during the years before 1914, and during the twenties he was in Germany a number of times and also visited Paris and Italy.
The changes in Munch's existence did not mean a transformation of the man himself. He was not freed from inner disquiet, for he told his physician, probably when he was in his seventies, 'The last part of my life has been an effort to stand up. My path has always been along an abyss.' By avoiding the shocks he feared he was able to maintain a life devoted to his work. Furthermore, this work shows that he actually had attained a poise that permitted the carrying forward of his ideas with a broader view of life and a clearer into the problems of his own art.
During the first years after his return to Norway Munch painted largely within the framework of his ideas of the years immediately before, but he broadened their implications. The theme of the workmen, for example, was continued in a series of paintings of snow-shovelers in which the casual, accidental character of the Warnemünde treatment of the subject is entirely gone and a dignified and monumental effect not unlike that of the Bathing Men is achieved. In a version of 1911 the vigorous forward movement of the central canvas of the triptych is applied to the shovelers who stride toward the spectator through high piles of snow.
In 1910 Munch accepted an invitation to enter the competition for the decoration of the auditorium in a new wing that had been built at the University at Oslo. The difficulties that he had in winning the final award after the jury had selected his project by a two-to-one vote was the last evidence of real opposition to his art in Norway. The final decision did not come until 1914. Preliminary studies for the decorative scheme were also developed from earlier work. The large canvas called Life, formerly in the Dresden Gallery but now the property of the City of Oslo and soon to be installed in the new city hall, is considered to be such a study.
The composition is a combination of a number of motives and ideas that had been used before by Munch, but there is also a new element. Grouped under a tree in summer dresses are women who represent the types of their sex. Near them is a despondent young man, related to similar figures of the nineties; opposite him an old man, detached from the others and looking up to the sky, is the most emphasized figure in the composition. This new element, old age as wisdom, can be seen as the further development of a motive of the Bathing Men. Another early idea for the murals was a composition of humans striving up a mountain toward the sun, which, similarly, is the further development of an idea of the painting of the bathers. The old man as wisdom and the power of the sun are two of the major motives in the University murals as they were finally carried out.
In the final solution Munch combined two themes. One is mankind and the forces of nature. The sun rising from the sea framed by the rocks of the shore fills the wall behind the stage on the main axis of the room. On adjacent panels are nude men and women, awakened by the sun and turning toward its warmth. Other panels with nudes continue the idea of man in harmony with other of nature's forces. The second theme, a broad conception of education, occupies the main panels of the two long walls. History is symbolized by an old man seated beneath a great oak with the Kragerø shore in the background, telling a story to a little boy. Opposite, the painting called Alma Mater is of a mother nursing a child with other children beside her who explore the life of the sea shore. The mode of each painting is that of the symbol in everyday life, though in these canvases the monumental replaces the casual. On the other hand, the nudes symbolizing man and nature belong to a type of invention more related to the Frieze of Life.
Munch emphasized the connection between the two cycles. In a pamphlet printed for an exhibition of the frieze paintings in 1918 he wrote, 'The Frieze of Life should also be seen in connection with the University decorations, for which it was in many respects a forerunner... They should be seen together as ideas. The Frieze of Life is the joys and sorrows of the individual human seen close, the University decorations are the great eternal forces.' The University paintings are also a culmination of Munch's efforts to establish values independent of his own state of mind, which took definite form in the years 1907 and 1908.
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