Red and White, 1894
The most radical departure from anything he had done before was the painting Melancholia. 1900 is the date assigned in recent literature, and in spite of the difference in use of forms and colors, this is undoubtedly correct. There are points in common with works done that year and near it in the flat areas of color and the convention of the curving outlines of the pattern in the cover of the table and of the tree seen through the window.
The subject of this powerful painting is the abnormal state of the model. The distortion of the spatial effects expresses her isolation from all awareness of her surroundings as she becomes locked in her own disordered thoughts. She sits in a brightly lighted room, her back to the windows and her dark clothes opposed to the warm colors and the clear light around her. The tile floor at the right and the table top at the left are seen from a different angle of vision from that of the rest of the objects in the painting: they are tipped up toward the spectator as if he were standing very close and looked down to see them. The curve of the table moves back into space beyond the figure and toward the window through which the fjord and its distant horizon are seen. The French door on the right, however, reinforces the effect of shallow space of the tipped-up perspective by the angle of the line along its base.
Moreover, the edge of the door continues the vertical of the subject's arm and the line of the corner of the room rises from the center of the top of her head, emphasizing her immobility and canceling any effect of recession in the corner. It is evident that Munch thought of warm colors as coming forward and cool as receding, for the door is painted in oranges and yellows while through the window the view is all greens and grey-blues. The woman seem confined in space, hemmed in between the table and the corner, but the spectator, aided by the arrow-like pattern of the table cloth, is aware of what she is not, the other direction in the painting, from the flowers on the far edge of the table to the window and out into the space of the world beyond.
The new elements that make this painting different from Munch's contemporary works are due to the influence of Van Gogh. The color may give a hint of this source, but the chief thing that Munch took from the Dutch painter was a method of distorting space effects for expression. The idea of manipulating the space by combining two angles of vision in one picture must have come from some such painting as Van Gogh's Zouave Milliet. Its use by Munch was very different, however, and was in fact more complicated. It is significant that similar distortions in this middle period of his work were used by Munch when the subject, as it did here, had a particularly personal meaning.
Far more typical was Munch's method of selecting aspects of reality as subjects for paintings where he could feel the embodiment of something more significant than mere appearances. The symbolism was implied discretely in what could pass for a representation of everyday life if Munch had not emphasized the things which point to a specific idea, as the flowers, the pine tree and the distant shore do in the painting just discussed. One of the last new subjects of the Frieze of Life, another representation of the theme of death, is a painting of a funeral procession in the Leipziger Platz in Berlin of the year 1902, which, superficially at least, is simply an ordinary scene of the city.
In the same year, 1902, the ages of human life is the subject of two paintings, one in the Rasmus Meyer Collection and the other in Stockholm, of a little girl, her mother and two older women in a village street. Langaard is no doubt correct in his suggestion that the charming Four Little Girls of Aasgaardstrand was painted by Munch as a complement to his 1903 portrait group of the four little sons of his patron, Max Linde of Lübeck.
In this sense the Aasgaardstrand painting is the necessary opposite of the German portrait, but Munch hints at distinctions between the girls themselves which recall his ideas about women. The qualities of childhood in the little girls, from the ages of about three to eight, naturally come first in emphasis. Nevertheless, the oldest child who is at the left stands straight with her hands at her sides and takes the pose of Munch's woman who withdraws from life, while the prettiest of the four, in her red hat, with auburn hair and rosy checks, stands in the familiar pose of the woman with her arms held behind her back.
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