Night in Saint-Cloud
- Artist: Edvard Munch
- Creation date: (1890)
- Object type: Painting
In the years 1889-91, Munch lived in France, supported by an artist’s bursary from the Norwegian state. When cholera broke out in Paris in December 1889, Munch moved to Saint-Cloud, outside the city. There he rented the floor above a café, which commanded a beautiful view of the Seine. In the atmospheric and melancholy Night in Saint- Cloud, we see both the inside of his dark room and the view through the window late at night. At the window sits a man lost in thought. It might be a friend, the Danish poet Emanuel Goldstein. Shortly afterwards, Munch would design the vignette for Goldstein’s anthology of symbolist poems Alruner (1891), an illustration that served as predecessor to Melancholy (1892), now in the National Museum’s collection.
In the catalogue to his 1929 exhibition at Blomqvist Fine Art, Munch published a few “Brief excerpts from my diaries – 1889-1929”. Among the various remarks, we find the famous statement that later became known as his “artistic manifesto”. He dated this to Saint-Cloud 1889: “The subjects of painting will no longer be interiors, with people reading and women knitting. / They will be living, breathing people who feel and love and suffer–. / People will understand what is sacred in these things and doff their hats as in a church.” This is followed by a remark which the artist dates to 1889-1900: “I paint not what I see but what I saw.” In these statements Munch registers his distance from the accurate depictions of realism.
Night in Saint- Cloud was painted at around the time he wrote this “manifesto”. But it took several years before Munch seriously rejected the inner world in favour of the exterior one. Night in Saint-Cloud was first exhibited at the National Annual Autumn Exhibition in 1890 with the title Night. It was purchased for the National Gallery from Dr. Fredrik Arentz’ estate in 1917.
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.