Man in the Cabbage Field
- Artist: Edvard Munch
- Creation date: 1916
- Object type: Painting
With its lush colours and monumental grandeur, this depiction of a farmer harvesting his produce and of the fundamental needs of life has acquired central significance among the works of Munch’s later period.
After many years without a fixed abode in Europe, Munch returned to settle permanently in his native country in 1909. In 1916 he bought the rural property Ekely just outside Kristiania (Oslo), where he lived until his death in 1944. The house had a large garden that had formerly been used as an agricultural nursery. The verdant surroundings with farmers at work, horses and fields quickly spawned a series of motifs that were crucial to Munch’s work in this period.
The simple composition of this picture, its light colours and rough brushstrokes have a lot in common with Munch’s paintings for the university auditorium in Kristiania. The man is depicted face on, inscribed in a triangle of incisive visual force. His individual characteristics are toned down to the benefit of more general aspects.
The work was painted at a time when World War I was ravaging Europe (as a neutral country, Norway remained outside the conflict). It was a war that provided a powerful corrective to the 19th century zeal for industrial development, making it important to secure supplies of agricultural products. Munch’s interest in the rural way of life in these years can be seen in connection with this history. At the same time, there are similarities between Munch’s paintings of farming life and his depictions of industrial labourers, a field of interest that can be traced back to the years 1907–08.
The picture was donated to the National Gallery in 1937 by Charlotte and Christian Mustad.
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.