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Edvard Munch

Norwegian painter and printmaker
Edvard Munch, 1921.
Edvard Munch, 1893: 'The Scream', famous oil-painting on canvas which inspired the later early 20th-century Expressionists; current location National Gallery in Oslo, Norway

Edvard Munch (12 December 186323 January 1944) was a Norwegian Symbolist painter and printmaker, and an important forerunner of the Expressionistic art movement.


Quotes of Edvard MunchEdit

1880 - 1895Edit

  • I am at work on a girl. It is quite simple a girl getting up on the edge of her bed and pulling on her stockings. The bed is whitish, and in addition there are white sheets, a white nightdress, a bedside table with a white cover, white curtains and a blue wall. [as model for his painting 'Morning', 1884]
    • In his letter to Olav Paulsen, September 1884; as quoted in Edvard Much – behind the scream, w:Sue Prideaux; Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007, p. 53
  • Life here [in Paris, 1885] is quite different. You hardly ever see a dog on a lead; you come across little wagons being pulled by dogs that are often so small that you can’t imagine how on earth they manage to shift such enormous weights. You see shepherdesses in the middle of the street herding goats and sometimes playing on their flutes. I think I’ll go to the Louvre and the Salon today.
    • In a letter (1885); as quoted in Edvard Munchs Brev, Familien, Oslo: Tanum, 1949, p. 57
  • 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.
    • In his text (1889) 'Impressions from a ballroom, New Year's Eve in St. Cloud' - also known as 'The St. Cloud Manifesto'
  • I thought I should make something – I felt it would be so easy – it would take form under my hands like magic.
Then people would see!
A strong naked arm – a tanned powerful neck a young woman rests her head on the arching chest.
She closes her eyes and listens with open and quivering lips to the words he whispers into her long flowing hair.
I should paint that image just as I saw it – but in the blue haze.
Those two at that moment, no longer merely themselves, but simply a link in the chain binding generation to generation.
People should understand the significance, the power of it. They should remove their hats like they do in church.
There should be no more pictures of interiors, of people reading and women knitting.
There would be pictures of real people who breathed, suffered, felt, loved.
I felt impelled – it would be easy. The flesh would have volume – the colours would be alive.
There was an interval. The music stopped. I was a little sad. I remembered how many times I had had similar thoughts – and that once I had finished the painting – they had simply shaken their heads and smiled.
Once again I found myself out on the Boulevard des Italiens. [written in Saint Cloud, 1889]
    • In 'Saint Cloud Manifesto', Munch (1889): as quoted in Edvard Much – behind the scream, Sue Prideaux; Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007, pp. 120 -121
  • The point is that one sees things at different moments with different eyes. Differently in the morning then in the evening. The way in which one sees also depends on one's mood.. ..coming in from a dark bedroom in the morning into the sitting room one will, for example, see everything in a bluish light. Even the deepest shadows are topped with bright light. After a while one will accustom oneself to the light and the shadows will be deeper and everything will be seen more sharply. If an atmosphere of this kind is being painted it won't do merely to sit and gaze at everything 'just as one sees'. One must paint precisely the fleeting moment of significance – one must capture the exact experience separating that significant moment from the next – the exact moment when the motif struck one.. .In some circumstances a chair may seem to be just as interesting as a human being. In some way or another it must have caught the interest in which case the onlooker's interest must somehow be engaged in the same way. It's not the chair that should be painted, but what the person has felt at the sight of it [written in Saint Cloud, 1890 - probably related to the chair of Vincent van Gogh
    • In: T 2770, (1890); as quoted in Edvard Much – behind the scream, Sue Prideaux; Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007, pp. 83-84
  • When seen as a whole, art derives from a person’s desire to communicate himself to another. I do not believe in an art which is not forced into existence by a human being’s desire to open his heart. All art, literature, and music must be born in your heart’s blood. Art is your heart’s blood.
    • Manuscript (1891); as quoted in Edvard Munch and the Physiology of Symbolism (2002) by Shelley Wood Cordulack
  • I was walking along a path with two friends — the sun was setting — suddenly the sky turned blood red — I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence — there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city — my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety — and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.
    • Quote in an entry in his Diary (22 January 1892), on the experience which inspired his famous painting, '(The Scream)' ('Shrik'), originally titled: 'Der Schrei der Natur' ('The Cry of Nature')
  • Realism's 'truth' as embodied in painting and literature now solely consists of things capable of being seen by the eye or heard by the ear. Realism is concerned only with the external shell of nature. People content with the discoveries they have made ignore the fact that there are other things to be discovered, even broader avenues to be explored. They have found bacteria, but not what they consist of. [quote of 1892)
    • OKK 1760 (Nice, January 1892); as quoted in Edvard Much – behind the scream, Sue Prideaux; Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007, p. 81
  • Nothing ceases to exist – there is no example of this in nature.. .There is an entire mass of things that cannot rationally explained. There are newborn thoughts that have not yet found form. How foolish to deny the existence of the soul. After all, that a life has begun, that cannot be denied. It is necessary to believe in immortality, insofar as it can be demonstrated that the atoms of life or the spirit of life must continue to exist after the body’s death. But of what does it exist, this characteristic of holding a body together, causing matter to change and develop, this spirit of life? I felt it as a sensual delight that I should become one with – become this earth which is forever radiated by the sun in such a constant ferment and which lives – lives – and which will grow plants from my decaying body – trees and flowers – and the sun will warm them and I will exist in them – and nothing will perish – and that is eternity.
    • T 2760 (January 1892); as quoted in Edvard Much – behind the scream, Sue Prideaux; Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007, p. 119

1896 - 1930Edit

  • By painting colours and lines and forms seen in a quickened mood I was seeking to make this mood vibrate as a phonograph does.
    • In: Diary Saint Cloud, 1898; Munch, as quoted in Edvard Much – behind the scream, Sue Prideaux; Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007, p. 105
  • And I live with the dead – my mother , my sister [Sophie], my grandfather, my father [who died in 1889, when Munch was in France].. .Every day is the same – my friends have stopped coming – their laughter disturbs me, tortures me.. daily walk round the old castle becomes shorter and shorter, it tires me more and more to take walks. The fire in the fireplace is my only friend – the time I spend sitting in front of the fireplace gets longer and longer.. its worst I lean my head against the fireplace overwhelmed by the sudden urge – Kill yourself and then it’s all over. Why live? I light the candle – my huge shadow springs across half the wall, clear up to the ceiling and in the mirror over the fireplace I see the face of my own ghost.
    • a note from Saint Cloud, 1898; as quoted in Edvard Much – behind the scream, Sue Prideaux; Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007, p. 115
  • No one in art has yet penetrated as far [as Dostoyevsky into the mystical realms of the soul, towards the metaphysical, the subconsciousness, viewing the external reality of the world as merely a sign, a symbol of the spiritual and metaphysical.
    • As quoted in Edvard Munch, Hans Dedekam, Kristiana 1909, p. 4
  • When I write these notes, it is not to describe my own life. I am writing a study of the soul as I observe myself closely and use myself as an anatomical testing-ground. It would therefore be wrong to look on these notes as confessions. I have chosen – in accordance with Søren Kierkegaard – to split the work into two parts; the painter and his distraught friend the poet. Just as Leonarda da Vinci studied the recesses of the body and dissected human cadavers, I try from self-scrutiny to dissect what is the universal in the soul [written after 1908]
    • In: The Mad Poet’s Diary, T 2734
  • My ideas developed under the influence of the bohemians or rather under Hans Jager [leader of the 'Kristiania Bohemia' since 1883]. Many people have mistakenly claimed that my ideas were formed under the influence of Strindberg and the Germans.. ..but that is wrong. They had already been formed by then.
    • Quote in a draft letter to Broby-Johansen, Berlin, 11 December 1926, Munch Museum
  • At first when I saw 'The Sick Child' [in his imagination] her pallid face and the vivid red hair against the pillow – I saw something that vanished when I tried to paint it. I ended up with a picture on the canvas which, although I was pleased with it, bore little relationship to what I had seen.. ..In the space of that year [1885 – 1886], scratching it out, just letting the paint flow, endlessly I tried to recapture what I had seen for the first time – the pale transparent skin against the linen sheets, the trembling lips, the shaking hands. I repainted the painting numerous times – scratched it out – let it become blurred in the medium – and tried again and again to catch the first impression – the transparent pale skin against the canvas – the trembling mouth – the trembling hands. I had done the chair [in which his sister Sophie had died] with the glass too often. It distracted me from doing the head. – When I saw the picture I could only make out the glass and the surroundings. – Should I remove it completely? – No, it had the effect of giving depth and emphasis to the head. – I scared off half the background and left everything in masses – one could now see past and across the head and the glass.. .I had achieved much of that first impression, the trembling mouth – the transparent skin – the tired eyes – but the picture was not finished in its colour – it was pale grey – the picture was then heavy as lead. [Munch showed the painting on the Autumn Exhibition 18 October 1886; it was criticized severely, even by his bohemian art-friend Jager]
    • Quote in 'Livsfrisen tilblivelse', Blomqvist, Oslo 1929, p. 9
  • One sunny spring day I heard the music coming down Karl Johan [street] and it filled me with joy. The spring, the sun, the music, all blended together to make me shiver with pleasure. The music added colour to the colours. I painted the picture [his painting 'Music on Karl Johan'] allowing the colours to reverberate with the rhythm of the music. I painted the colours as I saw them at that moment.
    • Quote in 'Livsfrisen tilblivelse', Blomqvist, Oslo 1929, p. 12
  • Behind the top hats, a little lady wearing lila-coloured tights was balancing on a tightrope in the middle of all that blue-grey tobacco-laden air. I sauntered in among the standing clientele. I was on the lookout for an attractive girl. Yes – that one wasn’t bad. When she became aware of my gaze her facial expression changed to that of a frozen mask and she stared emptily into space. I found a stair – and collapsed into it – tired and listless. Everyone clapped. The Lila-clad tightrope-walker curtsied, smiled and disappeared. A group of Romanian singers took her place. There was love and hate – and longing and reunion – and lovely dreams – and that soft music melting together with the colours. The melted notes became green palm trees and steely blue water floating in the blue haze of the room. An artwork is a crystal. A crystal has a soul and a mind, and the artwork must also have these.
    • a note of Munch, written in Ekely, 1929; Munch Museum

1930 and laterEdit

  • The strange light illuminated all those night-time meetings that took place in every imaginable sort of café; the lips mouthing defiant words, heedless of restraint or consequence, often overbearing and brutal as only Norwegians can be, vast shadows of impotence misery and shabbiness – spirits training for fulfillment, striving in vain to be great, complete, unique. [Munch describes the environment and atmosphere of the Norwegian bohemia in Kristiana, where he himself lived and worked when he was about 23] And at the center of all the faces there would be Jaeger, whose logic was as sharp as a scythe and as cold as an icy blast..
    • In: Edvard Munch, Pola Gaugain, Oslo Aschehoug, 1933, p. 15
  • The only influences in [the painting 'The sick Child', Munch painted in his elderly home, remembering very accurate the last days of his dying little sister Sophie] 'The sick Child'.. ..were the ones that come from my home.. childhood and my home. Only someone who knew the conditions at home could possibly understand why there can be no conceivable chance of any other place having played a part – my home is to my art as a midwife is to her children.. ..few painters have ever experienced the full grief of their subject as I did in 'The sick child'. It was not just I who was suffering; it was all my nearest and dearest as well.
    • Edvard Munch talks to Jens Tiis, (c. 1933), Munch Museum; as quoted in Edvard Much – behind the scream, Sue Prideaux; Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007, pp. 85-86
  • One evening I came to have a discussion with my father on the subject how long unbelievers are tormented in Hell. I maintained that no sinner could be so guilty that God would let him suffer longer than a thousand years. Father said that they would suffer for a thousand times a thousand years. We would not give up the argument. I became so irritated.. .I returned home to make my piece with him. He had gone to bed so I quietly opened his bedroom door. He was on his knees in front of the bed, praying.. .I closed the door and went to my own room but I could not get to sleep.. ..eventually I took out my drawing block and started to draw. I drew my father kneeling by his bed, with the light from the bedside lamp casting a yellow glow over his nightshirt. I fetched my paintbox and colored it in. Finally I achieved the right pictorial effect, and I was able to go to bed happy and slept soundly.
    • In: 'Close Up of a Genius', Rolf E. Stenersen; Sem and Stenersen, Oslo 1946, pp. 10 – 11
  • Could only have been painted by a madman.
    • His inscription, written in pencil, between the red clouds on at least one of his paintings of The Scream (c. 1893 - 1910), as quoted in Edvard Munch: The Man and His Art (1977) by Ragna Thiis Stang, p. 106
  • My art is rooted in a single reflection: why am I not as others are? art gives meaning to my life.
    • Quote in Edvard Munch: Psyche, Symbol and Expression (2001) by Jeffery Howe
  • From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity.
    • Quoted in Sustainable Landscape Construction: A Guide to Green Building Outdoors (2007) by William Thompson and Kim Sorvig, p. 30
  • Grey dawn was seeping into the sick room [around Christmas 1867, Munch was almost dying then and spitting blood when he was 13; but he recovered]. I lay in the middle of the bed with my hands outside the bedclothes, looking straight ahead. Now I was in a pact with God. I had promised to serve him if I survived, if he allowed me to escape the tuberculosis. Now I could never be as before.
    • T 2771, as quoted in Edvard Much – behind the scream, Sue Prideaux; Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007, p. 26
  • There must be no more pictures covered in brown sauce [c. 1880, when Munch started to paint series of landscapes in fresh colors]
    • a written note; as quoted in Edvard Much – behind the scream, Sue Prideaux; Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007, p. 41
  • Far out there – that
Soft line where the air meets
The sea – it is as incomprehensible as
existence – it is incomprehensible as
death – as eternal as longing.
    • N 613, as quoted in Edvard Much – behind the scream, w:Sue Prideaux; Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007, p. 79
  • My afflictions belong to me and my art - they have become one with me. Without illness and anxiety, I would have been a rudderless ship.. .My art is really a voluntary confession and an attempt to explain to myself my relationship with life - it is, therefore, actually a sort of egoism, but I am constantly hoping that through this I can help others achieve clarity.
    • As quoted in 'From my rotting body, flowers shall grow, and I am in them, and that is eternity', Potter P. Emerg Infect Dis, 2011
  • it was the period I think of as the age of the pillow.. .What I wanted to bring out - is that which cannot be measured - I wanted to bring out the tired movement in the eyelids - the lips must look as though they are whispering - she must look as though she is breathing - I want life - what is alive. [on his painting 'The sick Child']
    • As quoted in 'From my rotting body, flowers shall grow, and I am in them, and that is eternity', Potter P. Emerg Infect Dis, 2011
  • What is art really? The outcome of dissatisfaction with life, the point of impact for the creative force, the continual movement of life.. my art I attempt to explain life and its meaning to myself.
    • N 45, as quoted in Edvard Much – behind the scream, Sue Prideaux; Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007, p. 35

Quotes about Edvard MunchEdit

  • The creator of the 'Frieze of Life' was almost blind [in 1938, when Hodin visited Munch]. He had completely lost the sight of one eye a year before through the bursting of a blood vessel that flooded the eyeball, and now the other was threatened in the same way, as a result of one of the severe illnesses which had so often endangered his life. The seventy-five-year-old artist had for months been confined to his sick bed, unable to lift a finger to give the much desired finishing touches to the vast edifice of his life’s work.
    • w:J. P. Hodin, in 'The Forerunner', published in 'The Dilemma of Being Modern', 1956
    • Hodin had met Munch during 1938, a year after the retrospective exhibition at the Academy of Arts in Stockholm. Hodin described this meeting in his essay 'The Forerunner'.

External linksEdit