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Munch, Edvard

Munch, Edvard ĕd´värt mo͝ongk [key], 1863–1944, Norwegian painter and graphic artist. He studied in Oslo and under Bonnat in Paris, traveled in Europe, and lived in Berlin from 1892 to 1908. 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 sanity), Munch transformed his 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, often using color and the grain of the wood as expressive elements; these helped revive creative activity in the medium.

Among Munch's strongest and best-known works are The Scream (1893) and a calmer version of the same subject executed in pastels (1895), 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, as in his his haunting self-portrait, The Night Wanderer (1923–24). 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, particularly the Munch Museum and the National Museum, both in Oslo.

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), K. McShine, ed. (2006), and J. Lloyd, ed. (2016).

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

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