The Angst of Edvard Munch

“I was walking along the road with two friends. The sun set. I felt a tinge of melancholy. Suddenly the sky became a bloody red. I stopped, leaned against the railing, dead tired. And I looked at the flaming clouds that hung like blood and a sword over the blue-black fjord and city. My friends walked on. I stood there, trembling with fright. And I felt a loud, unending scream piercing nature.”  Edvard Munch (1863 – 1944)

Speculation was high in the art world this past week. The Scream, 1893, by Edvard Munch was on auction. Sotheby’s had expected the final price to be over $80 million US. They were not disappointed! The painting sold for a record $119.9 million US, which puts The Scream in the illustrious category of “most expensive” works of art. The image of a man holding his head and screaming under a blood-red sky is unforgettable. Perhaps less well-known, Edvard Munch painted several versions of The Scream which form part of a series entitled The Frieze of Life, which investigates themes of life, love, fear, death and melancholy. On August 22, 2004, another version of this painting was stolen from the Munch-Museet, in Oslo.

Born in 1863, Edvard Munch was Norway’s most popular artist. His life was difficult, full of angst. The deaths of his parents (his mother died when he was 5), his brother and sister, and the mental illness another sister, left deep and traumatic scars which surface in his creative work. His adult life was marked with bouts of mental illness which was treated with electric shock therapy. Munch studied art in Oslo (formerly Christiania) but traveled in Germany, Italy and France. His visits to Paris between 1889 and 1892 introduced him to the works Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. Munch, along with Van Gogh, is considered to be the forerunner of Expressionism. Moreover, his work echoes the Symbolist work of Paul Gauguin, whom he met in Paris, 1908.

November 8, 1892, Munch exhibited his work at the Artists’ Union premises in the German capital of Berlin. The reaction was intense. His work was considered an “insult to art.” The marketing side of Munch revelled in the uproar and in the newspaper headlines, “The Munch Affair.” I can only imagine what he would think if he read newspapers dated May 2, 2012:  The Scream sold for $119.9M US in record art auction.  Edvard Munch died in 1944 at the age of eighty.  He lived long enough to witness worldwide critical acceptance of the Expressionist movement.

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