"Edvard Munch Paintings 1892-1917"

By Kunitz, Daniel | New Criterion, April 2001 | Go to article overview

"Edvard Munch Paintings 1892-1917"


Kunitz, Daniel, New Criterion


"Edvard Munch Paintings 1892-1917" at Mitchell-Innes & Nash Gallery, New York. February 7-March 10, 2001

The masterly Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944), whose paintings were exhibited in a rare show in New York in March, never wavered in his idiosyncratic, expressionist impulses. He had the uncanny ability to infuse even the most symbol-laden and iconic images with the terrestrial energy of lived experiences, and, conversely, he managed to raise quotidian scenes to the level of symbols. Of the ten works on view, two were crowd-pleasingly famous and distinctively Munchian. In Madonna (1892-1894), the nude torso and placid face of a dark-haired woman sits in a swirling, dreamlike background, which contracts to a red-orange halo above her head. Like its companion, Vampire (1917)--wherein a man bows his head as a red-haired woman bites his neck against a dark, billowy ground --the composition is powerfully simple. Nothing distracts the viewer from the central and centered image, itself rendered with great economy. The vampire's dangerous-looking, flamelike hair and peachy flesh define the bent man's head and back as they dissolve into the black of the ground, establishing a sort of paintedy concomitant to the man's submission.

Well known as these images are, they gain force by being surrounded by less emblematic but immediately recognizable works. Diagonal strokes of blue, green, and gray paint, laid on with a dry brush, give the impression of driving rain in Winter Morning (1892), an early street scene in which six figures are seen from on high. …

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