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Edvard Munch earned his place in history with art influenced by his restless soul and the Norwegian nature. Meet the artist who painted the iconic masterpiece The Scream.

Illness led to a passion for art

Edvard Munch is renowned as one of Modernism's most important artists. For more than sixty years, he experimented with painting, graphic art and drawing, as well as sculpture, photo and film. This earned him a unique position in both Norwegian and international art history.

Munch's interest in drawing started early on. As a child, he was frequently ill and had to stay home from school for long periods. To make the time pass, he started drawing, which soon became his major passion. In the beginning, his drawings were mainly the things he could see around him: animals, people, views and buildings close to his home in the Grünerløkka neighbourhood of Kristiania, which is today called Oslo, Norway's capital.

Munch had a difficult childhood. When he was five years old, he lost his mother, Laura Munch, to tuberculosis. When he was fourteen, his older sister Sophie passed away from the same disease. Several of Munch's later works have tragic themes, including Death in the Sickroom and The Sick Child.

When Munch's mother died, his aunt Karen soon moved in to take care of the household. Unlike his father, Karen encouraged Munch's art, and in 1880 he started attending the Royal School of Art and Design in Kristiania. Here, Munch felt like his talent awakened.

When he was 17, Munch wrote in his diary:

“It is my decision now to become a painter.”

Edvard Munch

Munch rented a studio in Kristiania together with six friends, where he met his first great mentor, the renowned artist Christian Krohg, who encouraged Munch to find his own path.

Munch's female influences

In 1886, Munch exhibited the first painted version of The Sick Child at the Annual Autumn Exhibition in Kristiania. He was 23 years old at the time. His rough painting method was both criticised and praised. Munch later said that "I broke new ground with The Sick Child – it was a breakthrough in my art".

In total, there are six different versions of the motif, painted over several decades. The composition is the same in all the paintings, but his latest versions are more colourful.

Several of Munch's works were inspired by the women in his life. The artist had a turbulent love life, and his relationships typically involved brief, spontaneous first-time meetings followed by a lifelong obsession. This is reflected in works like Dance of Life, painted in 1899-1900 and Head by Head from 1905, among others.

Iconic motifs

In 1889, Munch had his first solo exhibition in a small, rented space in Kristiania. This helped him secure a scholarship for a one-year stay in Paris.

Later, in 1892, he was invited to exhibit his art at the Association of Berlin Artists. His art shook both the German public and the members of the Association. Some believed Munch's paintings were an insult to art, the exhibition closed after only one week.

During this period, between 1892 and 1896, Munch created some of his most famous motifs, including The Scream (pastel version), Vampire, Puberty and Madonna.

It still screams

It’s been more than 125 years since Edvard Munch painted The Scream; however, the pale human figure with its skull-shaped head and ovoid mouth still captivates people all over the world. The painting is an icon of modern art. It’s been named the second most famous picture in art history (after the Mona Lisa). It even has its own emoji 😱!

Though The Scream might be better known than the artist himself, Munch is one of the most famous Norwegians of all time. He was active as an artist for more than 60 years, and many of his works were influenced by existential themes such as anxiety, jealousy, and melancholy, making his art as relevant today as it was 125 years ago.

If you want to deep dive more into the artist's fascinating life and creations, you should definitely watch the film Munch on Viaplay, released in January 2023. You can watch the trailer below:

Experience Munch

Munch didn’t only turn to his own tormented inner life for motifs. He was also inspired by the stunning scenery that surrounded him, and the places where he lived and worked can also be seen in his paintings.

Today, you can stroll around and explore the places that inspired his creativity. Learn more about where to go:

Munch in Norway

See where you can experience Munch's life and art.

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