Melancholy

  • Artist: Edvard Munch
  • Creation date: Antagelig 1892
  • Object type: Painting

About

The dark shoreline curves diagonally in across the picture. On the jetty in the background we can make out three figures. The man in the foreground has turned his back on them. His head and his drooping shoulders stand out distinctly against the pale beach, a shape that is reiterated in the large boulders. The colours, primarily melancholy shades of blue, are softened by the summer night. Here we see a clear symbolist tendency in the simplification and stylisation of form and colours. In a text that can be linked to this motif, Munch noted:

I was walking along the shore – the moon was shining through dark clouds. The stones loomed out of the water, like mysterious inhabitants of the sea. There were large, broad heads that grinned and laughed. Some of them up on the beach, others down in the water. The dark, bluish-violet sea rose and fell – sighs in among the stones … but there is life over there on the jetty. It was a man and a woman – then came another man – with oars across his shoulder. And the boat lay down there – ready to go.

The picture’s thematic content refers to Munch’s friend Jappe Nilssen and his unhappy love life around this time. The landscape is based on the coastline at Åsgårdstrand.

The motif exists in several versions – both as paintings and woodcuts. This too was shown in Berlin in autumn 1892, when Munch’s exhibition at the Verein Berliner Künstler was forcefully criticised in the press and closed after just a few days. The controversy surrounding the exhibition served, however, to draw attention to Munch and his pictures, ensuring that they were energetically discussed in artistic circles.

The painting was a bequest from Charlotte and Christian Mustad in 1959. It was incorporated in the collection in 1970.

Text: Marianne Yvenes

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

Artist/producer

Edvard Munch

Billedkunstner

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.

Work info

Creation date:
Antagelig 1892
Other titles:
Melankoli (NOR)
Malinconia (ITA)
Object type:
Materials and techniques:
Olje på lerret
Technique:
Material:
Dimensions:
  • Width: 96 cm
  • Height: 64 cm
Keywords:
Classification:
Motif - type:
Acquisition:
Bequeathed by Charlotte and Christian Mustad 1959, accessioned 1970
Inventory no.:
NG.M.02813
Cataloguing level:
Single object
Owner and collection:
Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, The Fine Art Collections
Photo:
Børre Høstland/Lathion, Jacques

"Melancholy" relates to: