The Moderns--7


[ Munch and Dali ]

The Norwegian, Edvard Munch (1863-1944) offered significant innovations to the field of painting. As one biographer put it, through the "potent agency of rhythm and color, Munch examines the deeper regions of the psyche..." exploring the anxiety of his era (Artrchive, Gibson). About himself Munch said, "'My art is rooted in a single reflection: why am I not as others are...? Why did I come into this world without any choice...? My art gives meaning to my life'" (Artchive, Gibson). In about 1916 or 1917, he experienced a profound depression and spent several months in a sanatorium. The experience changed the nature of his work as he gave himself over to "painting everyday subjects" though "with the same vigorous brushwork and expressionist colors as before" (Artchive, Gibson). "The artist as solitary, tormented, possibly insane genius is among the most durable staples of the modern imagination..." is no where better defined than Edward Munch (Smith). He suffered a childhood scarred by poverty, the deaths of his mother and sister, and the overbearing presence of stern, devoutly religious, father.


Munch journeyed to Paris in 1889 where, like many others at the century's end, he studied the works and techniques of Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, and Gauguin. One of his early works, The Scream (1893,) reflects the influence of all three, at the same time, portraying an image of "terrifying, unreasoned fear..." (Janson 511). "The rhythm of the long, wavy lines seems to carry the echo of the scream into every corner of the picture, making of earth and sky one great sounding board of fear" (Janson 511). The Scream, as much as any other painting of the era, has been parodied and satirize, but seems to represent the new way of looking at and experiencing the world. "...Munch's most emblematic image, The Scream, with its hallucinatory sky and shrieking button face, was vandalized early on with delicately scrawled graffiti that reads...'Could only have been painted by a madman'" (Smith).

The Dance of Life

Munch's art is "tortured and shockingly personal...;" at first it "provoked outrage" but eventually "gained him fame, wealth and the respect of the art establishment..." (Artchive, Bjornstad). Another author observed, "Edvard Munch's ruthless self-revelation through his art mirrors not only the particular nature of the artist but the style of a whole age.... [He conveys] an "existential message" of human experience. (Artchive, Eggum) Visit the site <
> to hear an art lecture and see the slide show introducing the "Becoming Edvard Munch: Influence, Anxiety, and Myth" exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, February and March, 2009. It's worth it!

In Puberty, part of The Frieze of Life sequence that is thought to epitomize Munch's work, "a skinny young girl meditates, sitting naked on her bed beneath the threatening form of her own shadow..." (Artchive, Gibson). "Munch's art offers some of the world's most effective images of emotional states--a veritable sign language of the soul" (Smith). Before leaving Munch, it is worthwhile to note his influence on the work of his contemporaries such as Claude Monet, to name just one. Roberta Smith comments that he was a "giant of the imagination and of modernism.... Munch simply broke the dial. His disdain for for normal technique...his love of long, somewhat slurpy brush strokes...made all the difference."

Salvador Dali (1904-1989)

Like Munch, the Spanish Surrealist painter Salvador Dali has been much copied and satirized, even by himself. Early in his career, his works reflected the influence of Picasso, especially in his Cubist and Neo-Classical periods (Witt 411). From Spain, Dali moved to Paris to join the Surrealists; his exuberance, flair for publicity, scandalous behavior, and other eccentricities made him a welcome addition to their number. (Artchive). In Paris he began to articulate a theoretical or philosophical basis for his art, based on "visions, dreams, and memories with pathological or psychological distortions..." (Witt 411). Hints of the later Dali can be seen in his 1925 work, Figure at Window. He could, when he wanted to, paint with a realism reminiscent of Vermeer (Witt 411).



Dali's style more and more came to be characterized by "violence, destruction, decay, and transformation in which familiar objects such as the human form, watches, telephones, pianos, insects...appeared" (Witt 411). He gave greater intensity and power to his paintingss through his use of "harsh, intense, luminescent colors." (Witt 411) In 1931, Dali created what is arguably his most famous work, The Persistence of Memory.

Dali continued to "create an extraordinary universe where the erotic and the scatological jostle with a fascination for decay--a universe that is reflected in his other works...." (Artchive) In the 1930's, he produced Meditation on the Harp (left) and a Self-Portrait (right.) By this time, Dali had earned the opprobrium of some contemporaries by demonstrating his fascination for Hitler and in 1939, announcing his support for Franco. To the concern of others, there was no denying his "excessive exhibitionism."


Smith, Roberta. "So Typecast You Could SCREAM." The New York Times, February 13, 2009. Online available.
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