Ashes is a pessimistic depiction of the relationship between a man and a woman.
Against a dark background of slender tree trunks, a woman in pale clothing stands facing us. Her wide eyes, loose hair and open bodice tell us of what has happened. With her hands high on her head, her posture is expressive of despair, but also of power and victory. In the lower left quarter of the picture sits a man with his back turned to the woman. He is withdrawn and holds his hands dejectedly to his head. The only contact between the two after what has just happened in the sombre woods is through her long, red hair.
“I felt our love lying on the earth like a heap of ash,” Munch wrote on a lithographic version of the motif. This explains both the picture’s title and the stylised tree trunk in front of the man. Also in its use of colour and form, this picture is full of contrasts and tension: open and closed shapes, straight and curved lines, dark and light colours.
Reflecting contemporary views on women
This painting is possibly one of Munch’s most pessimistic on the subject of male − female relationships. It depicts the man as weak and the loser, while the woman is strong and victorious. In this work Munch expresses both personal experience and typical aspects of the complex contemporary view of woman: “The woman who is at one and the same time a saint – a whore – and unhappily devoted.”
The painting was purchased for the museum in 1909.