The Girls on the Bridge
- Artist: Edvard Munch
- Creation date: Ca. 1901
- Object type: Painting
Edvard Munch drew inspiration from the bright Nordic summer nights. In general, nature plays an essential part in Munch’s pictures. The interplay between people and the landscape forms a symbolically coherent entity.
Three girls stand on a bridge with their backs to the viewer. They are leaning against a railing, looking down into the water. The figures, landscape and building in the background are painted in a simplified manner, giving the painting a decorative effect. The girls’ brightly coloured dresses form a contrast with the pale pink, light blue and muted dark green of the landscape.
From the bridge we are looking towards Åsgårdstrand, the coastal village by the Kristiania Fjord that inspired many of Munch’s motifs during the time he spent there. In the background we can see the stately Kiøsterudgården manor, which appears in several of his paintings, along with a large, dark-green tree. The low-hanging full moon can be glimpsed on the horizon behind the tree. The railing along the bridge and the winding road draw the viewer into the landscape. This is a compositional device that we recognise from Rue Lafayette (1891) and The Scream (1893), among other works. Taking individual elements from his own pictures and placing them in new contexts is a recurring theme in Munch’s artistic practice.
The painting has had different titles, and was shown for the first time at an exhibition in Kristiania in 1901 as Sommeraften (Summer Evening). It was also included in Munch’s exhibition at the Berlin Secession in 1902, under the title Norwegische Sommernacht (Norwegian Summer Night). Its monumental format, simplified renderings and use of colour evoke associations with The Dance of Life, but the substance of the two pictures is different. The thematic basis of The Dance of Life is symbolism related to love, whereas The Girls on the Bridge shows three children and features fewer narrative and action-oriented elements.
In the following years Munch’s paintings displayed his interest in depicting childhood and the child’s view of the world. In 1898 he bought a small house in Åsgårdstrand, a place that appealed to him. The purchase gave him a closer connection to the local community, which enabled him to use some of the people there as models, as here in The Girls on the Bridge. He later commented on the village: “Walking here is like walking among my paintings. I have such a desire to paint when I am walking in Åsgårdstrand.” Munch painted several versions of this motif and also a variation with young women on the bridge. The painting in the collection of the National Museum is the first of these different variations.
- Hans Martin Frydenberg Flaatten, Edvard Munch. Måneskinn i Åsgårdstrand. Edvard Munchs sjelelandskap, scener, stemmer og stemninger i en småby ved sjøen (Edvard Munch: Moonlight in Åsgårdstrand. Edvard Munch’s Spiritual Landscapes, Scenes, Voices and Moods in a Village by the Sea) (Oslo: Sem og Stenersen, 2013), pp. 146–152
- Ragna Stang, Edvard Munch. Mennesket og kunstneren (Edvard Munch: The Man and His Art) (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1977), pp. 170–172
-  Nasjonalmuseet. Høydepunkter. Kunst fra antikken til 1945 (National Museum. Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945), p. 166
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.