Self-Portrait with the Spanish Flu, 1919

It is a sick and enfeebled artist who meets our gaze in Self-Portrait with the Spanish Flu

Edvard Munch became ill at the turn of the year 1918–19, having apparently contracted the Spanish flu, which became a serious worldwide epidemic, taking the lives of many millions of people in the years 1917–20. In a series of studies, sketches and paintings, Munch followed the various stages of the illness, illustrating how close death came to life.

A feeble Munch

It is a sick and enfeebled artist who meets our gaze. With thinning hair and sallow complexion, he is heavily wrapped in a dressing gown and blanket. Sitting in a wicker chair in front of his unmade sickbed, he shows us his frail condition. Intimate and straight to the point. The technical approach also seems direct and unembellished. The figure is depicted using simple, wavy lines and colours applied with rough sweeps of the brush. Red, blue, yellow – green and brown. The experience is concentrated in this picture. The room seems narrow and the dominant use of yellow intensifies the restlessness that characterises the composition.

The University Aula

The picture belongs to a late phase of Munch’s art, created just a few years after he settled at Ekely on the outskirts of Kristiania (Oslo). He had recently completed the large-scale decoration of the main auditorium at the university, a work that seems to find a continuation in the colours and monumentality of this painting. Here, however, he has returned to one of his recurrent preoccupations: himself. The picture’s large format, its broad painterly register and expressive force give it a unique place among Munch’s many self-portraits.

The painting was donated to the National Gallery by Charlotte and Christian Mustad in 1937.

Explore Self-Portrait with the Spanish Flu in the National Museum digital collection