If someone says, “Who painted the Mona Lisa?”, the automatic response is “Leonardo da Vinci”, and so it is with The Scream and the famous Norwegian artist named Edvard Munch. He was one of the most psychologically intense artists ever, who used Symbolism in his art in order to express himself. He himself recognized his own afflictions, blaming them on his genetics and his upbringing, but he moved forward under his continuous nightmares and illnesses, to excel in life on his chosen path. Munch’s paintings had a great effect on the development of German Expressionism in the first decades of the 1900s.
Munch was born in Adalsbruk, a village in the area of Løten, into a poor but educated family. His father was a medical officer and doctor who married a young woman half his age in 1861. Together they had five children, Edvard being the second child. The family lived together in a very old farmhouse until 1864, when their father moved them to the capital city of Christiana (renamed Oslo in 1925). Edvard’s mother died in 1868 after contracting tuberculosis and he and his brother and sisters were taken care of with the help of their aunt Karen.
Due to the harsh winter weather Munch was often sick and missed school a lot of the time. He was mostly tutored by his aunt and took up drawing as a way to pass the hours spent in bed. His father taught him literature and history, and loved to read Edgar Allen Poe’s scary stories to entertain his children. Munch later confessed that his father’s overly-religious sentiments and nervous habits affected him badly, and together with his regular consumption and ailments he was always feeling as if he was either at death’s door or about to suddenly go insane.
When Munch was a teenager he enjoyed copying the paintings he saw in the Art Association, but in 1879 he joined the technical college where he was an excellent student in math, science and scaled drawing. Unfortunately he missed a lot of classes due to illness, and he then decided to drop out of college before the second year in order to take up painting instead. The change in career was a sore topic between Munch and his father for many years. He enrolled at the Christiania branch of Royal Academy of Art, which was coincidentally founded by a distant relative of his, Jacob Munch.
In his earlier paintings it can be seen that he experimented with several styles, such as Impressionism and Naturalism (taught to him by Christian Krohg), but by 1886 he had left Impressionism behind. Soon he was showing the influences of Symbolism and Post-Impressionism in his compositions, but never settling on any one style. His painting, Sick Child (1886) was just another of his several paintings that received negative reviews and upset his father and the community, in general. It was however, considered to be his first “soul painting” and it was a picture that came from his experience with his sister’s death. It wasn’t until 1889 that he received positive recognition for his works up until that time, when he was given a 2 year state scholarship. The award meant that he would be a pupil of artist Léon Bonnat in Paris.
In Paris he was invigorated by the colorful works of Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh, and he experimented with Georges Seurat’s style of Pointillism, too. In 1892 he was back at upsetting his critics with the paintings he presented at an exhibition in Berlin. By this time he was deeply into “synthesist aesthetic”, and he found rare approval for his paintings, and yet he continued on because he needed to express himself. His painting The Scream was first done in 1893, but he made two more, one in 1895 and one in 1910. He based this scene on an event he felt had occurred to him while walking with friends along a fjord at sunset; he heard nature screaming in his blood.
In 1900 he was in a good relationship with a wealthy older woman, but she pushed for marriage and he backed away although he loved her. She came back to him in 1906 to try to reconcile, but after an accident involving a gun, she broke off the whole thing and married someone else, to Munch’s dismay. Years later he suffered a breakdown, due to alcohol and mental stress, and after he finally recovered his paintings were more colorful and cheerful, and he became successful by selling his works of art.
Munch died in 1944, and he left all of his remaining works to the city of Oslo. Despite his paranoia and fear of death he survived the Spanish Flu epidemic that ran through Europe and lived to a fine age of 80 years old. After his death his works became so famous that they auction for millions, especially The Scream, which went for over $119 million at auction in May 2012.