Moonlight

  • Artist: Edvard Munch
  • Creation date: 1895
  • Object type: Painting

About

This painting shows one of Munch’s most simplified depictions of the Norwegian coastal landscape in the light of a summer night. Thematically it is related to The Voice, which Munch had painted earlier, in that case with a female figure in the central foreground. Moonlight captures a mood of nature, without human presence. The first thing to catch our attention is the unusual pillar of moonlight, a motif that occurs in several of Munch’s pictures. The next is the undulating coastline, which forms a horizontal counterpoint to the strict verticality of the trees. The colours are subdued, but there are clear contrasts between the dark forest floor, the white shore and the intense blue of the water. Details are simplified and subordinated to the overall scheme, but without compromising the landscape’s characteristic features and recognisability. Instead of depicting an action, the picture expresses a certain mood. At the same time there is a formal theme in the pillar of moonlight, the strict verticality of the trees, the gentle curves of the shoreline, and the water as a symbol of the masculine and the feminine.

The motif probably derived from the area around Åsgårdstrand, where Munch stayed this summer. It was a place to which he was very attached. The sea and the landscape both attracted and inspired him, and elements of nature in the region appear in a range of pictures from the 1890s. Running through these images, Munch wrote, “twists the flowing shoreline, beyond lies the sea, which is always in motion, and beneath the canopy of trees varied life unfolds with its joys and cares.”

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:
1895
Other titles:
Måneskinn (NOR)
Chiaro di luna (ITA)
Object type:
Materials and techniques:
Olje på lerret
Technique:
Material:
Dimensions:
  • Height: 93 cm
  • Width: 110 cm
Keywords:
Classification:
Motif:
Motif - type:
Acquisition:
Bequeathed by Charlotte and Christian Mustad 1959, accessioned 1970
Inventory no.:
NG.M.02815
Cataloguing level:
Single artwork
Owner and collection:
Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, The Fine Art Collections
Photo:
Børre Høstland/Høstland, Børre