Munch and his paintings were fiercely discussed in public when he presented Melancholy in the fall of 1892.
The dark shoreline curves diagonally in across the picture. On the jetty in the background we can make out three figures. The man in the foreground has turned his back on them. His head and his drooping shoulders stand out distinctly against the pale beach, a shape that is reiterated in the large boulders. The colours, primarily melancholy shades of blue, are softened by the summer night.
Here we see a clear symbolist tendency in the simplification and stylisation of form and colours. In a text that can be linked to this motif, Munch noted:
I was walking along the shore – the moon was shining through dark clouds. The stones loomed out of the water, like mysterious inhabitants of the sea. There were large, broad heads that grinned and laughed. Some of them up on the beach, others down in the water. The dark, bluish-violet sea rose and fell – sighs in among the stones … but there is life over there on the jetty. It was a man and a woman – then came another man – with oars across his shoulder. And the boat lay down there – ready to go.
The picture’s thematic content refers to Munch’s friend Jappe Nilssen and his unhappy love life around this time. The landscape is based on the coastline at Åsgårdstrand.
The motif exists in several versions – both as paintings and woodcuts. This too was shown in Berlin in autumn 1892, when Munch’s exhibition at the Verein Berliner Künstler was forcefully criticised in the press and closed after just a few days. The controversy surrounding the exhibition served, however, to draw attention to Munch and his pictures, ensuring that they were energetically discussed in artistic circles.
The painting was a bequest from Charlotte and Christian Mustad in 1959. It was incorporated in the collection in 1970.