Munch Cat, 1898
Woodcut had a unique place in Munch's art. From the beginning the technique interested him as such. The craftsman in Munch seems to have been challenged by a technique that was at the beginning of its development. Moreover, the woodcut its expressive character held much the same significance for him as lithography.
The difference in Munch's relation to the two techniques is that in woodcut he tends more and more to find forms in terms of the way the medium can best be worked, rather than forms drawn from painting. The result is the development of a technical originality and style with a consistency found nowhere else in his work. Munch's influence on artists of the Expressionist movement in Germany is most clearly seen in woodcut, for here he established a path that others could follow.
A good part of Munch's inventive ingenuity in woodcut was applied to making color prints, which he ultimately carried to a modern extreme of virtuosity. Early in his career as printmaker he found his own special method, which was to saw the woodblock in pieces after it had been cut, so that the parts could be inked and printed separately, although the whole composition had been worked out as one unit. He also printed from complete blocks in the usual way or combined the two methods. One experiment found in several early prints, notably in the later states of The Kiss, was to cut the figures out of the block so that they could be printed separately.
Over this a second printing was made from a coarsely grained piece of pine lightly inked. The more usual method was to saw the block into two or more pieces along a contour in the scene represented, the shore line or the horizon. In many instances other blocks were made in addition; for example, Woman's Head against the Shore is printed from one block in two pieces and a second complete one. Almost twenty years later Munch took up again a number of the wood blocks of the end of the nineties and added new blocks for new colors. Here he attained his greatest virtuosity.
Two Beings, originally printed in two colors in 1899 from one block in two pieces, was later printed in combinations of four colors, and in the most complex state in seven, with a moon added and an overprinting of the details of the foreground rocks.
In the last few years of the century monochrome prints, usually black on white, became equally important with work in color. Although prints with forms similar to the paintings continued for a few years longer, Munch was moving away from the typical curving lines and rhythmical closed contours. In a few prints of 1899 a new position in regard to forms was clearly established. The dependence was on the simple contrast of the soft blacks of the inked wood and on cutting strokes made in the simplest way, long or short, often in groups parallel to each other.
The Old Fisherman is made on this very simple system. The vertical strokes of the background and the hat contrast with the shadows and with the twisted strokes which render the gnarled face, and the grain of the wood makes a series of fine white lines through the face and the lower part of the print which repeats in an abstract way the contrast of the heavier verticals above. The character of the wood and the character of the lines of the countenance are the major elements of the print.
The Winter Landscape of the same year has for its focus of expression the contrast of the tiny houses and the great expanse of dark in the sky and the white of the snow. Here the strokes are heavy, moving emphatically across the landscape and over the houses. The dwellings seem in the grip of the darkness and the deep snow of the northern winter. It is significant that these early examples of Munch's original method were his reaction to a specific experience of the external world. In his painting around the turn of the century a new concern for the experience of nature also begins to appear.
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