A recognized forerunner of Expressionism, Norwegian painter and printmaker Edvard Munch is renowned for his representations of emotion. Associated with the international development of Symbolism, Munch experimented with many different themes, palettes, and styles of drawing. Though stylistically influenced by Paul Gauguin and the Nabis, Munch's subjects are drawn from his Scandinavian roots and his own tortured psyche.
Born in 1863, Munch was raised in Christiania, Norway's capital city, later renamed Kristiania and then Oslo. After a rather bleak childhood, which saw him witness the deaths of both his mother and sister by tuberculosis, Munch spent his twenties mixing with a bohemian circle of writers and artists, sporadically taking off to Paris and Berlin in pursuit of creative enlightenment. However, a nervous breakdown in 1908 saw him return to Norway, by which point he had come to be seen as an important figure in the art world.
Munch's paintings are the stuff of nightmares; gaunt and ghoulish faces glare at you from all sections of the canvas, expressions are obscured and exaggerated as they melt into the scenery, from which they seem almost inseparable. There is nothing to split subject and object. The surroundings in which Munch's figures find themselves interminably trapped become merely an extension of their mood and, by association, the artist's own emotional state. Munch's paintings serve to signify himself.
His most famous painting, The Scream (1893), illustrates a tormented cry translated into waves of color that resonate across the landscape. Though based on Munch's own experience, The Scream has become an instantly recognizable symbol of anxiety and alienation. Often reworking his paintings into etchings and lithographs, Munch was also one of the major graphic artists of the 20th century he took an experimental approach to printmaking and contributed to the revival of the woodcut.
Edvard Munch created four versions in paint and pastels. The National Gallery in Oslo, Norway, holds one of two painted versions (1893, shown at right). The Munch Museum holds the other painted version (1910, see gallery, below) and also a pastel version from 1893. These three versions have seldom travelled, though the 1893 pastel was exhibited at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2015. The second pastel version from 1895 was sold for $119,922,600 at Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art auction on 2 May 2012 to financier Leon Black, the fourth highest nominal price paid for a painting at auction and was displayed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York from October 2012 to April 2013.
In 1895 Munch created a lithograph stone from which several prints produced by Munch survive. Only approximately four dozen prints were made before the original stone was resurfaced by the printer in Munch's absence.
Both painted versions have been the targets of high-profile art thefts. During the 1994 Olympics the version in the National Gallery was stolen and recovered several months later. In 2004 gunmen took both The Scream and Madonna from the Munch Museum; both were recovered two years later.