Ashes

  • Artist: Edvard Munch
  • Creation date: Antagelig 1894
  • Object type: Painting

About

Against a dark background of slender tree trunks, a woman in pale clothing stands facing us. Her wide eyes, loose hair and open bodice tell us of what has happened. With her hands high on her head, her posture is expressive of despair, but also of power and victory. In the lower left quarter of the picture sits a man with his back turned to the woman. He is withdrawn and holds his hands dejectedly to his head. The only contact between the two after what has just happened in the sombre woods is through her long, red hair.

“I felt our love lying on the earth like a heap of ash,” Munch wrote on a lithographic version of the motif. This explains both the picture’s title and the stylised tree trunk in front of the man. Also in its use of colour and form, this picture is full of contrasts and tension: open and closed shapes, straight and curved lines, dark and light colours.

This painting is possibly one of Munch’s most pessimistic on the subject of male – female relationships. It depicts the man as weak and the loser, while the woman is strong and victorious. In this work Munch expresses both personal experience and typical aspects of the complex contemporary view of woman: “The woman who is at one and the same time a saint – a whore – and unhappily devoted.”

The painting was purchased for the museum in 1909.

Text: Frithjof Bringager

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

Artist/producer

Edvard Munch

Billedkunstner

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.

Work info

Creation date:
Antagelig 1894
Other titles:
Aske (NOR)
Object type:
Materials and techniques:
Olje på lerret
Material:
Dimensions:
  • Width: 141 cm
  • Height: 120.5 cm
Keywords:
Classification:
Motif - type:
Acquisition:
Kjøpt for A.C. Houens fond 1909
Inventory no.:
NG.M.00809
Cataloguing level:
Single object
Owner and collection:
Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, The Fine Art Collections
Photo:
Børre Høstland/Lathion, Jacques