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Edvard Munch

Munch, Edvard (ĕdˈvärt mŏngk) [key], 1863–1944, Norwegian painter and graphic artist. He studied in Oslo and under Bonnat in Paris and traveled in Europe. He abandoned impressionism and in the 1890s, from a profound personal sense of isolation, visually examined such primal themes as birth, death, thwarted love, sex, fear, and anxiety. Stricken by tragedy (his mother and favorite sister died young, another sister was psychotic, and he feared for his own sanity), Munch transformed his own trauma into an exploration of universal themes, creating figurative images that are sometimes violent, sometimes tranquil and sorrowful. He also executed a masterful series of self-portraits. Munch's emotionally charged style is recognized as being of primary importance to the birth of German expressionism. Also during the 1890s, Munch's most productive period, he made a number of powerful and often shocking woodcuts, developing a new technique of direct and forceful cutting that served to revive creative activity in this medium.

Among Munch's strongest and best-known works are The Scream (1893), Vampire (1894), and The Kiss (1895). Reaction to his stark and sometimes fearsome images caused the closing of his first major exhibition held in Berlin in 1892. In 1909, after a severe mental illness, he returned from Germany to Norway, where he painted murals for the Univ. of Oslo and for an Oslo chocolate factory. His painting became brighter of palette and less introverted until the 1920s, when he again was moved to portray his dreadful anguish. All but a few of Munch's paintings, e.g. Summer Night's Dream (The Voice) (1893, Boston Mus. of Fine Arts), are in Norwegian collections.

See Munch: In His Own Words (2001), ed. by P. E. Tojner; The Private Journals of Edvard Munch (2005), ed. by J. G. Holland; biographies by O. Benesch (tr. 1960) and S. Prideaux (2005); studies by A. Moen (3 vol., 1956–58), W. Timm (tr. 1969), J. P. Hodin (1972), T. M. Messer (1973), G. Woll (2001), and K. McShine, ed. (2006).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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