- Artist: Edvard Munch
- Creation date: (1918)
- Object type: Painting
Bathers were a popular subject around the turn of the last century. Sojourns at health spas were fashionable and people pursued sports, nudism and the healthful effects of the natural environment. It was seen as cleansing to bathe in the sea, while the sun constituted a rejuvenating force of life.
In this painting we see a virile, muscular, naked man emerging from the cool, turquoise sea after a swim. The picture can be read as a reflection of the period’s “vitalism” – a world view that assumed all living things to be suffused with a magical life force. This philosophy found its pictorial expression in particular in dynamic motifs of naked men and youths.
As a cultural phenomenon, vitalism was a reaction against the decadence of the period, and against industrialism, with the great cities and ways of life it brought with it. Instead of cool-headed rationalism and scientific technology, vitalism preferred to emphasise instinct and intuition – and believed the key to a better life lay in nature and good health.
The picture was a gift from the artist to the National Gallery in 1927.
Text: Nina Denney Ness
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.