The Fairytale Forest

  • Artist: Edvard Munch
  • Creation date: 1901 eller 1902
  • Object type: Painting

On display: Room 067 The Collection Exhibition - Expression


Six children stand with their backs to us looking towards a dense green forest. Wearing costumes typical of the period, they hold each other by the hand. They are still at a safe distance from the wood. But although it is the middle of the day, and there are no dark shadows to pose an immediate threat, it is hard to say what the forest might conceal. The path ahead disappears among the trees – do they dare to follow it? The children are the link between the viewer and the mystical forest, while at the same time serving an important compositional function in the painting.

In 1903 Dr. Max Linde asked Munch to decorate the children’s room at his family villa in Lübeck, Germany. The proposals that Munch presented in December 1904 were, however, not well received. The doctor found the motifs with their kissing and dancing couples a touch too “adult” to grace a children’s room. One exception may well have been The Fairytale Forest, although not even this was purchased by Linde. Thus the paintings for the “Linde Frieze” ended up in different places. Munch had worked on the material for The Fairytale Forest for some years. He took the theme further in the so-called “Freia Frieze”, which was commissioned by Johan Throne Holst, director of the Freia chocolate factory for the company’s 25th anniversary in 1923.

The Fairytale Forest was bequeathed to the museum by Alfred Larsen in 1950.

Text: Ellen J. Lerberg

From "Edvard Munch in the National Museum", Nasjonalmuseet 2008, ISBN 978-82-8154-035-54


Edvard Munch

Visual artist, Painter, Graphic artist, Photographer, Drawing artist

Born 12.12.1863 in Løten, Hedmark, death 23.01.1944 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.

Work info