Encounter in Space, 1898–99

In Encounter in Space Munch compared people’s lives with the planets.

Two people – a woman and a man – float toward one another in apparent weightlessness against a dark background. Contours of sperm cells surround the couple. The erotic tension is the dominant element of this motif. The two people seem attracted to one another by subconscious powers. The contrast between the couple’s physical proximity and a certain emotive distance is suggested by the averted faces.

Cosmic dimension

In one of his commentaries on this picture, Munch compared people’s lives with the planets: “Human fates are like planets. They appear from the unknown only to meet and disappear.” This reference to a cosmic dimension is also reflected in the title of the woodcut.

Contrasting colors

The National Museum’s woodcut is printed in black, red and turquoise. In some variants of the motif turquoise is replaced with blue or yellowish green. The red figure of the man suggests pain and passion towards the woman, whereas her own bluish-green colour shows a cooler attitude in contrast. At the same time, the woman has turned to face empty space, whereas the inward curve of the man’s head and back are more introverted. This woodcut was printed from a single block of wood sawn into three pieces – the so-called puzzle method. Two small fragments have been replaced near the feet of the man and the woman, following damage to the block.

Among Munch’s graphic works we find a related motif in the lithograph Decorative Sketch from 1897/98, and in 1902 Munch returned to the subject in etching.

It is uncertain when the National Gallery acquired this work.

Explore Encounter in Space in the National Museum digital collection