Edvard Munch (1863–1944) was a Norwegian painter who built upon the tenets of Symbolism and became a leader of the modern Expressionist movement. His works are intensely evocative of emotional and psychological themes.
Munch's father and aunt raised him after his mother had died of tuberculosis when he was about five. His father's morbid Pietism overshadowed his childhood. Munch would say later that his father was “obsessively religious,” and that he had “inherited the seeds of madness” from him. One of his younger sisters suffered from mental illness. This would be a theme that would appear later in his art works.
The family lived in poverty, moving from one squalid home to another. Munch’s early works depicted their sordid interiors.
By the age of thirteen, Munch showed strong artistic tendencies. He admired the Norwegian landscape school of work that he saw at the Art Association and copied the paintings.
In 1879, Munch began studying engineering, but abandoned it after a year to become a painter. His father and even his neighbors discouraged him from taking up what they considered an unholy trade. Munch persevered, writing that he wanted to “explain life and its meaning” through his art.
In 1881, Munch enrolled at the Royal School of Art and Design of Kristiania (present day Oslo).
Munch first experimented with Naturalism and Impressionism, but his works received a poor critical reception. Eventually, he broke away from Impressionism, which he found superficial, to pursue his need to express deep emotional and psychological states.
In 1886, Munch painted “The Sick Child,” based on the death of his sister; a work he claimed was his first soul painting.
By the 1890s, Munch had come into his own, becoming known for his Symbolist direction. In 1893, Munch painted his best known painting, “The Scream.” With this masterpiece Munch reached his stated goal of studying the human soul and the self. The “infinite scream of nature” that struck the artist when he took a walk alongside a river with friends inspired the work. The masterpiece captures the universal angst of humankind.
In 1893, Munch started a series under the "Frieze of Life" themes, including “Puberty,” “Woman in Three Stages,” “The Dance of Life.”
He Munch died in 1944 near Oslo.