Young Woman Washing herself
- Artist: Edvard Munch
- Creation date: (1896)
- Object type: Painting
A young woman stands washing herself. The room is simple and austere. There is no indication of opulence or a luxurious way of life. Half turned away, the girl’s naked back and slender figure is illuminated by light from the window in the background. The window seems to echo the picture’s upright format, marking a separation from the world outside. Is it sunlight or moonlight that we see, morning or evening, day or night?
The scene is intimate and revealing. We are witness to a private moment in which the woman is also vulnerable. Such intimate interior scenes were popular in the late 19th century, especially in Paris, where artists such as Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Pierre Bonnard worked with this kind of motif. Munch painted the picture during a stay in Paris in 1896. For several years he had been depicting women in various large format, broodingly symbolic works linked to his “Frieze of Life” (including Madonna, The Kiss, Vampire and Dance of Life). In this work the woman is depicted in a more prosaic and mundane context. It is one of the first in a series of related nude studies that shows a different aspect of Munch’s creative activity.
The paint is applied in thin, semi-transparent layers, creating an almost translucent quality. The texture of the wood panel on which the work is painted can be seen in many parts of the picture. Together with the subtle use of colour, this creates a poetic dimension, while simultaneously emphasising the work’s inherent pictorial quality.
This painting was donated to the National Gallery by Olaf Schou in 1909.
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.