Night in St. Cloud, 1890

Night in St. Cloud was painted in the period when Edvard Munch peeled out a new direction for his art.

In the years 1889−91, Edvard Munch lived in France, supported by an artist’s bursary from the Norwegian state. When cholera broke out in Paris in December 1889, Munch moved to St. Cloud, outside the city. There he rented the floor above a café, which commanded a beautiful view of the Seine.

On the road to Melancholy

In the atmospheric and melancholy Night in St. Cloud, we see both the inside of his dark room and the view through the window late at night. At the window sits a man lost in thought. It might be a friend, the Danish poet Emanuel Goldstein. Shortly afterwards, Munch would design the vignette for Goldstein’s anthology of symbolist poems Alruner (1891), an illustration that served as predecessor to Melancholy (1892), now in the National Museum’s collection.

Away from realism

In the catalogue to his 1929 exhibition at Blomqvist Fine Art, Munch published a few “Brief excerpts from my diaries – 1889−1929”. Among the various remarks, we find the famous statement that later became known as his “artistic manifesto”. He dated this to St. Cloud 1889: “The subjects of painting will no longer be interiors, with people reading and women knitting. / They will be living, breathing people who feel and love and suffer–. / People will understand what is sacred in these things and doff their hats as in a church.” This is followed by a remark which the artist dates to 1889−1900: “I paint not what I see but what I saw.” In these statements Munch registers his distance from the accurate depictions of realism. Night in St. Cloud was painted at around the time he wrote this “manifesto”. But it took several years before Munch seriously rejected the inner world in favour of the exterior one.

Night in St. Cloud was first exhibited at the National Annual Autumn Exhibition in 1890 with the title Night. It was purchased for the National Gallery from Dr. Fredrik Arentz’ estate in 1917.

Explore Night in St. Cloud in the National Museum digital collection