• Artist: Edvard Munch
  • Creation date: 1889
  • Object type: Painting

On display: Room 052 The Collection Exhibition - Among the artists


In the 1880s Edvard Munch often found human subjects among his close family and friends. One eloquent portrait is that of the writer, anarchist and social critic Hans Jæger. The subject sits leaning back in a sofa, weighing us up through his spectacles with a direct gaze. His hat and tight-fitting overcoat emphasise his aloof and impassive aspect. The cool light streaming in through the curtains to the left casts deep shadows creating shimmers of red-violet, brown and bluegreen hues. The pastose, emphatic brushstrokes seem tossed onto the canvas with the same casual attitude as the character on the sofa.

Hans Jæger was a central figure in the group known as the Christiania Bohemians – a small but conspicuous group of young students, artists and writers living in the capital who shared radical and incisively critical views on bourgeois society. Munch belonged to this circle in the 1880s. Their “credo” was partly summed up in the commandment: “Thou shalt write thy life.” Jæger’s book From Christiania’s Bohemia (1885) was banned due to what were regarded at the time as pornographic scenes, for which in 1886 he was fined and sent to prison.

Although Munch gradually distanced himself from the Bohemian circle, he retained his respect for Jæger – almost ten years his senior – as both an individual and an idealist. For many years the painting remained in Munch’s possession, and was shown in most of his exhibitions in the 1890s. In 1897 he offered it to the National Gallery, which duly purchased it, whereupon the Bohemian found his place on the wall alongside national literary heroes such as Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson.

Text: Frithjof Bringager

From "Edvard Munch in the National Museum", Nasjonalmuseet 2008, ISBN 978-82-8154-035-54


Edvard Munch

Visual artist, Painter, Graphic artist, Photographer, Drawing artist

Born 12.12.1863 in Løten, Hedmark, death 23.01.1944 in Oslo

Edvard Munch worked as an artist for over sixty years. He was creative, ambitious and hardworking. He produced nearly two thousand paintings, hundreds of graphic motifs and thousands of drawings. In addition, he wrote poems, prose and diaries. The Scream, Madonna, Death in the Sickroom and the other symbolist works from the 1890s have made him one of the most famous artists of our time.

"Don't become an artist!"

Edvard wanted to become an artist early on, and there was no doubt that he had talent. But his father refused to allow him to follow his dream, so Edvard began studying engineering. But already after one year he chose to defy his father, and switched from engineering college to the Norwegian National Academy of Craft and Art Industry in Kristiania, now Oslo.

A talented and provocative bohemian

It was obvious to everyone in the Norwegian art community that the young man showed rare talent. In 1883, at the age of 20, he debuted at Høstutstillingen (The Autumn Exhibition). In 1886, Munch became acquainted with author and anarchist Hans Jæger, a leading figure in the Kristiania bohemian community. The bohemian community convinced Munch that the arts had to renew themselves to reach people and to have relevance in their lives. In the same year he exhibited the painting The Sick Child. This generated debate!

Courage led to breakthrough

Some acclaimed The Sick Child a work of genius, while others deemed it unfinished and unworthy of exhibition. Today it is considered to mark Munch's breakthrough. It was here that demonstrated the independence and willingness to break fresh ground.

From this point until his final brush strokes, his artistic practice can be summed up in just word: experimentation. Munch did not care about established "rules" for so-called good art. His techniques in both painting and graphics were innovative.

From people's emotional life to agriculture and landscape

Henrik Ibsen's plays about humanity's existential challenges inspired Munch. Themes such as death, love, sexuality, jealousy and anxiety were central to his early images. Some themes sprang from personal experience. For example, Death in the Sickroom and The Sick Child are linked to his memory of his mother and sister's illnesses and early deaths.

After 1910, Munch chose a quieter and secluded life. At his own farms at Ekely in Oslo and in Hvitsten, he found entirely new motifs, such as agriculture, working life and landscapes. Man in the Cabbage Field is a typical example from this period.

Work info