Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Munch at MoMA

Because I'm an art blogger, being allowed to take photos in museums is always a treat. Luckily, anything at the Museum of Modern Art can be photographed. . Even a special showing of one of four editions of Edvard Munch's The Scream and a few other of his paintings and lithographs on loan to the museum from other places, are allowed to be photographed.  During my visit to MoMA in February, my camera was always ready and a set of new batteries available in my pocket.

So, is The Scream all it's cut out to be? Yes, it is! Despite its ubiquitous reproductions on everything from greeting cards to boxer shorts, it retains all of its power to communicate the complex interaction between society, the self and the often mysterious elements of the way we view our own existence. One looks at it and is immediately struck on so many levels of emotion, that is is actually physically difficult to look at it for too long. None the less, the image grafts itself in the mind's eye and refuses to let go. I've thought about The Scream almost daily since my visit to MoMA. Partially, I think my reaction is a result of seeing the actual painting, in its proper context, instead of on a mug or a tee-shirt. The frame with its etched words further adds to the feeling of real communication between the artist and the viewer; one that transcends time and place. It was as if the artist gave me his eyes to view myself.  Needless to say, a very powerful experience and one that I don't expect I can precisely give a voice to. One of the most visceral experiences I've had to a painting since I first saw Van Gogh's Starry Night, another highly reproduced image.

Pastel on board
One of four versions of The Scream made between 1893 and 1910. This is the only of the four in a private collection. The other three versions are in museums in Norway. This is piece that sold for $120 million at auction in 2012.

This is the inscription at the bottom of the frame of The Scream pastel version, shown above.

 The fact that The Scream is one of the world's most recognized and reproduced artworks implies that the painting resonates with a universal feeling of isolation, loneliness and despair. Munch lost his mother to tuberculosis when he was only five years old.  While still young, Munch also suffered the loss of his father and two sisters. The work of this period expresses the deep sense of grief and bleakness he carried well into adulthood.

Munch's work gave visual expression to feelings of existential angst and the darker aspects of human sexuality. His depictions of dark emotions and the psyche of modern man is often credited with being a precursor in the development of modern psychology.

Munch is regarded as one of the most influential artists of German and Central European expressionism.  He propelled into the limelight in Germany when his works, where were a part of an exhibition at the Verein Berliner Künstler, were found objectionable and the exhibition was closed down.

"My father was temperamentally nervous and obsessively religious—to the point of psychoneurosis. From him I inherited the seeds of madness. The angels of fear, sorrow, and death stood by my side since the day I was born."

~Edvard Munch

I was born dying. Sickness, insanity and death were the dark angels standing guard at my cradle and they have followed me throughout my life.

Two People. The Lonely Ones

"No longer shall I paint interiors with men reading and women knitting. I will paint living people who breathe and feel and suffer and love. "


"Nature is not all that is visible to the eye. It also includes the inner pictures of the soul."

The Storm

"My fear of life is necessary to me, as is my illness. Without anxiety and illness, I am a ship without a rudder. My art is grounded in reflections over being different from others. My sufferings are part of my self and my art. They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art. I want to keep those sufferings” 

Oil on canvas

"Nature is not only all that is visible to the eye... it also includes the inner pictures of the soul."

Vampire II

"Your face encompasses the beauty of the whole earth. Your lips, as red as ripening fruit, gently part as if in pain. It is the smile of a corpse. Now the hand of death touches life. The chain is forged that links the thousand families that are dead to the thousand generations to come.” 


“From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them, and that is eternity.”

Stay tuned for a more comprehensive follow-up post on the life and work of Edvard Munch.


(This website is a labor of love)


  1. Your site is a gallery in itself. In many respects better than. One can give fuller attention. You are a true curator. I never understood Munch. Now I see he not merely accepted but embraced. So he finds beauty where the typical human reaction is to run panic-stricken in the opposite direction. And shares it with us.

    As do you. thanks.

  2. Great post, I've never come close to seeing even a print of "The Scream" but there is something about it that appeals to almost everybody.

    Nice to see a post, I've missed you.

  3. It's great to see some of Munch's other stuff. Interesting.

  4. The Scream would never have become such a famous image had it not acted as a mirror for the inchoate fears each one of us experiences. We don't have to lose in order to feel loss; we fear loss because we can imagine the void.

    It's interesting that Nietzshe and Munch lived in the same era, the time period when science was fast overriding the religion people in Europe had embraced for the better part of two millennia. If you don't mind I'll attach a passage from The Joyous Science written in 1882, where a madman voices Nietzshe's ironic central message:

    Haven’t you heard of the madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran into the marketplace, and shouted over and over, ‘I’m looking for God! I’m looking for God!’ There were plenty of people standing there who didn’t believe in God, so he caused a great deal of laughter. ‘Did you lose him, then?’ asked one.  ‘Did he wander off like a child?’ said another. ‘Or is he hiding?  Is he scared of us? Has he gone on a voyage, or emigrated?’ They shouted and laughed in this manner. The madman leapt into their midst and pierced him with his look.

    ‘Where is God?’ he shouted. ‘I’ll tell you. We’ve killed him, you and I! We are all his murderers. But how could we have done this?  How could we gulp down the oceans? Who gave us a sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from the sun? Where is it going now? Where are we going now? Away from all suns? Aren’t we falling forever, backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions at once? Do up and down even exist any more? Aren’t we wandering in an infinite void? Don’t we feel the breath of empty space? Hasn’t it become colder?  Isn’t night coming on more and more all the time? Shouldn’t we light lanterns in the morning? Aren’t we already hearing the sounds of the gravediggers who are coming to bury God?  Don’t we smell the stink of a rotting God—for gods rot too?

    ‘God is dead, God remains dead, and we have killed him. How can we, the worst of all murderers, comfort ourselves? The holiest and mightiest thing that the world has yet possessed has bled to death beneath our knives!’

    Nietzshe had been a Christian in a much deeper sense than most modern people who practice Christianity. When he proclaimed the death of God and abandoned belief in a divinely ordained order to the cosmos, it was with the understanding it meant abandoning any claim of purpose or meaning for humanity or the world.

    This, of course, can be argued. Ethics haven't changed that much, and neither has our sense of the sacred, but a great deal about what he thought and Munch illustrated have continued to ring true in our modern age. I think that's a big part of the reason The Scream still resonates with us.

    I'm delighted you've returned to your blog (and that you've re-posted your classically beautiful header). All the very best ♡

  5. I have been obsessed with Munch since the age of sixteen, especially The Scream - so primeval, so compelling. I relish this post. Thanks a million!

  6. Thanks for sharing his range of work and the range of feeling he depicted and evoked. Great stuff.

  7. Hope you will be back blogging soon!! Miss your wonderful and stimulating posts.

  8. Merry Christmas and much art for you.


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