Edvard Munch: Biography, Paintings & The Scream

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

Expressionist artist Edvard Munch explored dark, psychological themes in his paintings. In this lesson you will learn about his life, aesthetic style, legacy, and cultural influences.

Abstract Expressions

'Doctor Who' monsters, Wes Craven films, and of course Home Alone, have all paid homage to the work of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch. Even if you're not familiar with the painting itself, you've most likely come across a reference to Munch's famous Scream.

Munch, The Scream (1893)

Edvard Munch (1863-1944) was a Norwegian painter whose work was highly influential to German Expressionism in both style and theme. German Expressionism is an early twentieth century movement in art, a cultural exemplar of abstract expressionism. Art historians usually characterize German Expressionism as an art movement inextricable from the cultural zeitgeist, or spirit of the times. German Expressionism refers to a cultural movement with many different manifestations. In film, for example, the style presents with Gothic imagery and high contrast black-or-white compositions. In painting it manifests in an artistic style that features emotional overtones coupled with a subjective way of seeing.

Munch's oeuvre consists of over 1,000 works. While he painted in a variety of different styles throughout his lifetime, Munch was notorious for depicting dark, psychological, and haunting themes. A transitional figure in modern art, Munch's work shows signs of both impressionism and expressionism. Munch's Starry Night and the orange skies in Anxiety are reminiscent of the impressionist style of Van Gogh. The flowing waves in his landscape paintings are reminiscent of the later work of Dali.

Starry Night (1893)
starry night

Bohemian Lifestyle

Edvard Munch was the second of five children born to a doctor in the small rural town of Ådalsbruk, Norway, just north of Oslo on the border of Sweden. Munch was raised in near poverty, and his early paintings reflect the interiors of a childhood in squalor. With extreme religious views, his father looked down upon Edvard's choice to leave behind a potential career in the sciences for one in art. While Munch Sr. looked down on the arts as godless, Edvard embraced painting as a practice of self-knowledge. He wrote: 'in my art I attempt to explain life and its meaning to myself.' Munch embraced a bohemian lifestyle. He rejected the impressionist style for its aesthetic limitations and identified with the avant-garde experimentalism of expressionists like Paul Klee and August Strindberg.

Portrait of August Strindberg (1892)

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