Anguish and Despair are the Hallmarks of Edward Munch’s Painting

In Art & Culture, Painting

The connection between artistic expression and mental disturbance is eternally interesting. It cannot be dismissed – but mustn’t be over-stated. All we can do is look at the facts, and see what we can discover…

Edvard Munch was born in Norway in 1863, into a family situation conducive to mental health problems. His sister was schizophrenic, his father suffered from depression and his mother and another sister died when Munch was young – both from tuberculosis. He later reflected that “sickness, madness and death were the black angels that guarded my crib.”

Munch became an alcoholic and was admitted to a Danish mental health clinic in 1908 after a breakdown. Eventually he was diagnosed with ‘neurasthenia’ – a condition described at the time as hypochondria + hysteria.

Anguish and despair are the hallmarks of Munch’s paintings. His figures suffer palpably, perhaps on his behalf. His colours, brushstrokes and compositions all seem to express an inner torment.

Whether or not Munch’s work afforded him any relief is hard to say. Professionally he came into difficulties when Hitler’s government confiscated his works in 1937, labelling him a degenerate. On a personal level Munch knew his suffering was knitted into his art – and tragically into his means of survival: “I can not get rid of my illnesses, for there is a lot in my art that exists only because of them.”

What do you think about this personal cost of great, expressive artworks?

1 – The Scream [1893] Edvard Munch
2 – Anxiety [1984] Edvard Munch
3 – The Sick Child [1907] Edvard Munch
4 – Melancholy [1891] Edvard Munch
4 – Evening on Karl Johan Street [1892] Edvard Munch

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