- Artist: Edvard Munch
- Creation date: (1894)
- Object type: Painting
A naked young girl with loose hair is sitting on the edge of a bed, hiding her crotch with her arms. She stares at us with wide-open eyes. The composition is simple, with the frontally depicted body vertical in contrast to the horizontal lines of the bed. To the left of the girl lies a pillow, to the right a large, dark shadow is thrown on the lighter wall.
The National Museum’s version of this motif was painted in Berlin in the winter of 1894-95. Aspects of Puberty link it to the naturalism of the 1880s. The girl’s skinny arms and immature breasts combined with her relatively large hands and feet are realistically rendered. At the same time the painting has elements that anticipate Munch’s later, more expressive style. The picture deals with a girl’s approach to sexual maturity in a manner that is frank and unembellished. The threatening shadow can be seen as a projection of the girl’s inner state of mind. Comparable shadows feature in several other works by Munch.
Many people have wondered how a male artist could empathise with the emotional world of a young girl in this way. A verbal counterpart of this mood is provided by the Polish poet Stanislav Przybyszewski, who was closely attached to the Scandinavian circle in Berlin at the time:
She sensed it, she didn’t understand […] She couldn’t imagine, she merely felt the wild, quivering shudder surge through her body. She clasped both her hands between her knees, bent forwards and pulled in her feet, and there she sat, huddled up on the edge of the bed, listening in anxious pain to something unfamiliar and frightening. What was it? It came so often, always afresh! It frightened her. It made her tremble. The entire house was full of ghosts. (Translated from Underveis, Kra: 1895).
The picture was purchased in 1909 with a donation from the A.C. Houen Fund.
Text: Frode Haverkamp
Born 1863 in Løten, Hedmark, death 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.