1863 — 1944

The Life of Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch was one of Modernism's most significant artists. He was active throughout more than sixty years; from the time he made his debut in the 1880s, right up to his death in 1944. Munch was part of the Symbolist movement in the 1890s, and a pioneer of expressionist art from the beginning of the 1900s onward. His tenacious experimentation within painting, graphic art, drawing, sculpture, photo and film has given him a unique position in Norwegian as well as international art history.



Edvard Munch was born on Engelaug farm in Løten, 140 km north of the capital Kristiania (now Oslo). His father, Christian Munch, worked there as a military doctor. Christian Munch was introduced to Edvard's mother, Laura Cathrine Bjølstad, by a colleague in Elverum. They married in 1861, and had two children while living in Løten: Sophie and Edvard.

When Edvard was born on 12 December 1863, he seemed weak and was baptised at home; the baptism was confirmed in Løten church four months later. Before Edvard turned one, the family moved to Kristiania, but they kept in touch with the family at Engelaug.


In 1864, the family moved to Nedre Slottsgate, a street in the Kvadraturen area of Kristiania. They later moved to Pilestredet and to various addresses in the Grünerløkka neighbourhood east of the Akerselva river.

In 1868, when Edvard was five, his mother died from tuberculosis, and her sister, Karen Bjølstad, moved in to look after the five children and run the household. Edvard lost his older sister Sophie to the same illness in 1877. He suffered from chronic asthmatic bronchitis and had several serious cases of fever as a child. In later paintings such as The Dead Mother, Death in the Sickroom and The Sick Child, he expressed his feelings related to his memories of the illness and death of his mother and sister.

In 1880, after training as an engineer for one year at the Kristiania Technical College, Munch decided that painting would be his life's work. In December, he enrolled at the Royal School of Art and Design in Kristiania. His god-fearing father worried about the temptations that a life in art would bring. Family members and friends were frequent models.

In 1882, he rented a studio in the centre of the city together with six colleagues. The studio was located in the 'Pultosten' building near the Parliament building in Karl Johan's street. The young painters received instruction from the well-known and respected naturalist painter Christian Krohg. The form and subjects of Munch's paintings from that time were clearly influenced by Krohg and by naturalism.


Munch made his debut in 1883 at the large Industry and Art Exhibition in Kristiania. His Head Study was shown alongside the paintings of the renowned Hans Gude and those of contemporary young established painters, such as Erik Werenskiold, Gerhard Munthe and Eilif Peterssen. In December, Munch made his debut at the Autumn Exhibition, where his Morning was acclaimed by artists.

In March 1884, Christian Krohg and Eilif Peterssen recommended Munch for the Schäffer scholarship, which he received in September. He visited Frits Thaulow's open-air academy at Modum in late summer.

In 1885, Munch travelled abroad for the first time, with financial support from Frits Thaulow. He first went to Antwerp, where he exhibited a portrait of his sister Inger at the World Exhibition in April and May. Afterwards, he went to Paris and studied the collections at the Louvre. He also saw the 'Salon', the annual exhibition of contemporary art. The artist Eyolf Soot was Munch's travel companion, as were several other Norwegian artists.

Munch exhibited at the Autumn Exhibition, and received the Schäffer grant again.


The following year, Munch got to know the author and anarchist Hans Jæger, the leadership figure of bohemian Kristiania.

Munch exhibited four paintings at the 1886 Autumn Exhibition, including one of his main works, The Sick Child (exhibited as Study). Representations of sickbeds were popular at the time, and Munch's aunt Karen and her maid, Betzy Nielsen, modelled. The sketch-like execution created great indignation.

Six Munch paintings were exhibited at the Autumn Exhibition in 1887. In October, Erik Werenskiold recommended Munch for the Finne bequest.

The following year, Munch saw a large exhibition of French art in Copenhagen, and met the Danish painter Johan Rohde.


In April and May 1889, Munch organised his first solo exhibition in the Student Society in Kristiania, showing 63 paintings and 46 drawings. This was the first ever solo exhibition held in the Norwegian capital. During the summer, he holidayed with his family in the small coastal village of Åsgårdstrand, south-west of Kristiania. In subsequent years, many of his images were from this area. That autumn, he travelled to Paris again, funded by a state grant for artists. In the mornings, he joined classes held by the influential portrait painter Léon Bonnat. Munch visited the World Exhibition and Salon des Indépendants, which showed pictures by the pioneers of modern painting, such as van Gogh, Seurat and Toulouse-Lautrec.

In November, Munch's father died, and at the end of the year, Munch moved to the Saint Cloud suburb.


In 1890, Munch spent time with the Danish poet Emanuel Goldstein and the Norwegian painter Kalle Løchen. In Paris, he also met Frits Thaulow, Thorolf Holmboe, Jørgen Sørensen, Jonas Lie and Jappe Nilssen. Munch spent the summer in Åsgårdstrand and Kristiania, and showed ten pictures at the Autumn Exhibition. He received the State grant for artists again, and travelled to Le Havre, where he contracted rheumatic fever and was admitted to hospital. In December, five of his paintings were lost in a fire, one of which was the first version of The Day After.

In 1891, Munch left Le Havre for Paris and Nice. On his way back to Norway, he stopped in Paris and Antwerp, before spending the summer in Åsgårdstrand and Kristiania. He received the State grant for artists for the third time, and travelled to Paris via Copenhagen. By December, he had returned to Nice. Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson protested at Munch's being awarded a state grant for the third year running. The National Gallery purchased its first Munch painting, Night in Nice (1891).


In February 1892, Munch moved into the house of the painter Christian Skredsvig in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat outside Nice. After a trip to Paris, he spent the summer in Kristiania and Åsgårdstrand. Munch held a major solo exhibition in Tostrupgården by the Parliament building. The painter Adelsteen Normann, who was a member of the exhibition commission of Verein Berliner Künstler in Berlin was impressed by Munch's exhibition and invited him to exhibit in Berlin. Following a fierce debate, the exhibition closed after one week. Munch immediately sent the exhibit on to Düsseldorf and Cologne, and he also rented space in the Equitable Palast and showed it again in Berlin. In December, he settled in Berlin, where he painted the Swedish author August Strindberg, among others.


Munch remained in Berlin for several years. While there, he absorbed strong impulses from the literary and intellectual community that frequented the Zum Schwarzen Ferkel tavern. Members included August Strindberg, the Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland, the Norwegian music student Dagny Juell and her husband, the Polish author Stanislaw Przybyszewski. Like the bohemians in Kristiania, this group was interested in the creative and destructive powers of love, and in femininity and masculinity. They were also very interested in intellectuals such as Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.

In 1893, Munch's 'scandalous exhibit' was shown in Copenhagen and several German cities. He spent the summer in Åsgårdstrand and September with his aunt Karen and his sisters at Nordstrand. In December, Munch showed 50 paintings in Berlin, of which six were grouped in a series he called Die Liebe. The Frieze of Life started to take shape. In 1894, the first book about Munch was published. It was titled Das Werk des Edvard Munch, and was written by Stanislaw Przybyszewski, Julius Meier-Graefe, Willy Pastor and Franz Servaes. During the autumn, Munch started making his first etchings.

In March 1895, Munch exhibited his work together with Axel Gallén-Kallela at Ugo Baroccio's gallery on the Unter den Linden boulevard in Berlin. In June, Julius Meier-Graefe published a folder of eight of the etchings. Munch travelled home via Paris and Amsterdam, and held a solo exhibit at Blomqvist Kunsthandel in Kristiania. Henrik Ibsen saw the exhibit and Sigbjørn Obstfelder spoke about Munch in the Norwegian Student Society. The National Gallery purchased Self-Portrait with Cigarette. In December, Munch's brother Andreas died from pneumonia.


In 1896, Munch returned to Paris, where his circle consisted of artists such as the composer Fredrick Delius, Hans Jæger, Alfred Hauge, August Strindberg and Stéphane Mallarmé. That year, Munch printed colour lithographs and his first woodcut at Auguste Clot.

During these years, Munch worked on a series of paintings that he was later to call The Frieze of Life, and which included his most central works, such as The Scream. This image has come to represent an expression of existential anxiety and despair of modern man. Munch returned to several of the subjects in The Frieze of Life during a 30-year period. The pictures are tied together in terms of subject matter and form, and focus on existential topics such as love, pain, anxiety, jealousy and death.

In April and May 1897, Munch participated in the Salon des Artistes Indépendants in Paris. He did the programme for Lugné-Poë's staging of Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman at the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre. Munch spent the summer in Åsgårdstrand, and in September and October he held a large exhibition in the Dioramalokalet by Karl Johan in Kristiania.


Munch spent 1898 in Berlin and Paris. During the summer, he stayed in Åsgårdstrand, and in August he bought a small fisherman's cabin for NOK 900. Munch met Tulla Larsen during this year. The following year he travelled a lot, including to Berlin, Paris, Nice, Florence and Fiesole. He studied Rafael in Rome, before travelling to Paris and Le Havre and spending the summer in Åsgårdstrand. Munch was often ill, and during the autumn he lived at Holmenkollen Hotel and at Hamar Grand Hotel. He spent the winter at the Kornhaug sanatorium in Østre Gausdal.

In May 1900, Munch travelled to Berlin. He held an exhibit in Dresden before moving on to Florence, Rome and a sanatorium in Switzerland. Munch spent July in Como in northern Italy. During this year, he exhibited in the Dioramalokalet in Kristiania and painted the Dance of Life. He lived at Holmenkollen hotel and at Hammer's Guest House at Ljan.

The summer of 1901 was also spent in Åsgårdstrand. Munch exhibited 72 paintings and prints in Hollændergården in Kristiania in September. In November, he moved to Berlin and settled in Lützowstrasse 82.


Munch spent most of 1902-03 in Germany. He exhibited regularly and made connections with collectors and personalities in arts and culture. He gradually came to be a recognised and debated artist, who also exhibited in cities such as Vienna and Paris.

In 1902, Munch bought his first, small Kodak camera. In an exhibition entitled Presentation of a number of images of life, Munch exhibitedThe Frieze of Life at Secession in Berlin in 1902. At this time, The Frieze of Life consisted of 22 works.

During the summer in Åsgårdstrand, Munch received a gunshot injury to his left hand in connection with his breakup with Tulla Larsen. He returned to this event repeatedly in subsequent years. He returned to Berlin and also visited the ophthalmologist Max Linde in Lübeck. Munch's art made a strong impression on the art collector and critic Gustav Schiefler, whom he met at the end of December. Schiefler later catalogued Munch's prints.

In 1903, Munch rented a studio in Paris and met the English violinist Eva Mudocci.


Munch spent much of the winter of 1904 with the Linde family in Lübeck, only interrupted by short trips. He entered a contract with the Berlin publisher and art dealer Bruno Cassirer for sole rights to the sale of prints in Germany for three years, and a contract with Commeterer's art house in Hamburg for the sale of paintings and the organisation of exhibitions for the next three years. Count Harry Kessler invited Munch to Weimar, where he met Friedrich Nietzsche's sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche in the philosopher's home. Munch was commissioned to produce a frieze for the children's room in Linde's house, but on completion Linde refused to accept the frieze, which he found unsuitable.

In 1905, a grand Munch exhibit was held in the Manes Exhibition Hall in Prague. Munch spent the spring in Åsgårdstrand and the summer in Copenhagen. Munch is introduced to the architect, painter and interior designer Henry van de Velde in Herbert Esche's home in Chemnitz. Later, Munch travelled to Weimar to pain a posthumous portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche on commission from the art collector Ernest Thiel in Stockholm.

Munch made short trips to Berlin in 1906. During the summer, he produced drafts for the stage sets for Max Reinhardt's production of Ibsen's Ghosts at Kammerspiele, Deutsches Theater in Berlin. Afterwards, he started working on drafts for the stage sets for the production of Hedda Gabler. Later that year, he spent time in Bad Kösen, where he painted Self-portrait with a Bottle of wine (1906).


Munch spent the summers of 1907 and 1908 in the German seaside resort Warnemünde by the Baltic Sea. There, he tried to gather strength while also developing a new and more life-affirming expression than previously. He experimented with different techniques, as is evident in scenes of bathing men at the beach.

His contract with Cassirer expired during this period. Munch received a visit from the philosopher Eberhard Grisebach. During autumn 1908, he had a breakdown in Copenhagen and checked in to Dr. Jacobson's private clinic, where he spent the following eight months. Munch was awarded the Royal Order of St. Olav in 1908.


Jappe Nilsen and his friends organised a successful exhibition at Blomqvist Kunsthandel in Kristiania, and the first director of the National Gallery, Jens Thiis, made a large purchase of Munch's paintings despite strong protests. Munch's relative Ludvig Ravensberg brought him back to Norway from Copenhagen.

Following many years abroad, in May Munch moved into the Skrubben property in Kragerø. His reunion with Norwegian nature after his return resulted in a new interest in harmony and classical composition. This manifested itself in a multitude of landscapes executed with bold, vital brush strokes in a new, monumental style. Munch consciously used his impressive natural surroundings in the decorations he produced for the University Aula. He signed up for the competition for the decoration of the University Aula right after arriving in Kragerø, and the first drafts were made in the summer of 1909. Today, the two most well-known pictures that decorate the Aula are: The Sun and History. In order to have enough space to produce the large Aula decorations, Munch had to use untraditional methods. These included building his first outdoor studio at Skrubben.


After spending the winter and spring in Kragerø, Munch bought the Nedre Ramme property at Hvitsten on the east side of the Oslo fjord in November 1910. At Nedre Ramme, he continued working on the Aula decorations. Several of the drafts were inspired by the beautiful landscape in Hvitsten, and the background for the first drafts of The Researchers/Alma Mater shows the beach near his property.

Munch spent 1911 in Hvitsten, taking a brief trip to Germany and holding an exhibition in Kristiania with more than 100 paintings and nearly 200 prints. Munch also purchased a lithographic press to print lithographs and woodcuts in 1911. He spent the autumn and winter in Kragerø.

In 1912, Munch travelled to Copenhagen and Paris. On invitation, he participated in the Sonderbund exhibition in Cologne as one of the exhibitors of honour. The other exhibitors included van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso and Cézanne. 'All the wildest things that have been painted in Europe are collected here – I am practically a pale classicist', he wrote. Munch was introduced to the German art historian Curt Glaser in 1912.


In 1913, Munch rented the Grimsrød manor house at Jeløya near Moss, which provided him with more workspace. He used the large main building as a studio and as storage for his paintings and prints. Munch built a wood studio with a glass roof in the large garden, and this is where he worked on the monumental Aula decorations. He also painted the views from the garden and landscapes from Søndre Jeløy, his dogs, and glassworks workers on their way home after work.

In April 1913, Munch travelled to Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne, Paris and London. He exhibited in Stockholm, and travelled to Hamburg, Lübeck and Copenhagen. He painted portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Glaser and their relatives Käthe and Hugo Perls. Munch spent the autumn in Kragerø, Hvitsten and Moss. He exhibited in Berlin in October, and was celebrated on his 50th birthday.

In 1914, the University finally accepted Munch's drafts for the Aula decorations.

During the spring and summer of 1915, Munch painted the Aula decorations in Hvitsten. In August, he travelled to Trondheim. He spent September at Jeløya and travelled to Copenhagen in November. Munch produced an exhibition poster for the Norwegian Art Exhibition in Copenhagen, using irony to express his opinions about the conditions in the neutral countries Denmark and Sweden during the First World War. He provided financial support for young German artists in 1915.


In 1916, the decorations for the University Aula were completed: they were the monumental paintings History, The Sun and Alma Mater.These showcase the new tendencies in his art, and the pictures are now considered major works in Norwegian monumental painting. In parallel with the drafts for the Aula, Munch developed landscape paintings that used a similar mode of expression. The subjects of the paintings were often from the seaside and forests around Kragerø and Hvitsten.

Munch bought the Ekely property at Skøyen on the outskirts of Kristiania that same year. He lived at Ekely for the rest of his life. Ekely consisted of 11 acres of fields, apple trees, bushes and shrubs. He had a broad view of the city and surrounding hills from Ekely. In time, Munch built several large outdoor studios on the property.

In 1918, Munch bought Ålerud farm in Vestfold, which he sold in 1922. He held a large exhibition at Blomqvist Kunsthandel in October, showing images from The Frieze of Life. He published the 'Frieze of Life' booklet later.

Munch contracted the Spanish Flu in 1919. He commissioned the architect Arnstein Arneberg to draw a studio for Ekely, and he painted and drew the construction workers. He exhibited 57 prints at Bourgeois Galleries in New York, and was one of the initiators of the Association of Norwegian Printmakers.


For years, Munch worked on monumental projects in the outdoor studios at Ekely, including the series of pictures known as The Late Frieze of Life and The Human Mountain. However, he did not receive any further commissions for decorations, with the exception of a frieze for Freia Chokolade Fabrik in 1922.

In March 1924, the Rasmus Meyer Collection in Bergen opened as a public museum, and Munch's paintings and prints constituted an important part of the collection.

His sister Laura died in 1926. Munch held several exhibitions that year and travelled to places such as Venice, Munich, Copenhagen, Paris and Mannheim. The Swedish State purchased Ernest Thiel's collection, and Thielska Galleriet opened at Blockhusrudden in Stockholm with several paintings and many prints by Munch.

Munch travelled to Berlin in February 1927, where the largest retrospective Munch exhibit to date was presented in the National Gallery. In the summer of 1927, the National Gallery in Oslo showed 289 paintings, watercolours, drawings and prints. In October, Munch travelled to Berlin, Cologne and Paris. During this period, he also worked on ideas for decorations for the Oslo City Hall.

In 1928, Gustav Schiefler published the second volume of the catalogue of Munch's prints.

At Ekely, his winter studio was expanded in 1929 based on drawings by the architect Henrik Bull. The construction workers inspired his drafts for the decorations of Oslo City Hall.


Munch contracted an eye disease in May 1930, and had to rest until August. He took a series of photographic self-portraits.

His aunt Karen died in 1931. Munch continued to suffer from the eye disease, and worried about losing his sight entirely. In October, he visited Kragerø and he was constantly busy doing exhibitions.

In 1933, Munch spent parts of the winter and summer in Åsgårdstrand. He also spent time at Hvitsten and Kragerø. He was celebrated on this 70th birthday, and was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of St. Olav. Jens Thiis and Pola Gauguin published monographs about Munch. Curt Glaser, who converted to Judaism in 1914, fled Germany during the autumn, and prints by Munch from Glaser's private collection were auctioned in Berlin.

The Norwegian author, art collector and financier Rolf E. Stenersen offered his art collection to Aker municipality in 1936. His collection included more than 20 paintings and approximately 400 prints by Munch. The collection was exhibited in several paces that year.

In 1937, 82 of Munch's works were confiscated from German collections and labelled 'degenerate'. Munch supported a stay in Norway for the young German painter Ernst Wilhelm Nay. In the autumn, Munch visited Gothenburg.

Many of Munch's works were repatriated from Germany in 1938 and auctioned off.


In his will, Munch left all his artwork that was in his own possession to Oslo municipality. During the last years of his life, Munch made several unflinchingly revealing self-portraits, showing an old man facing death.
In 1942, four of Munch's paintings were shown in the exhibition 'Art and Not. Clean-up April 1942' ('Kunst og ukunst. Oppryddingen april 1942') in the National Gallery. That year, Munch also exhibited his work in Gothenburg, and 34 of his prints were shown at the Brooklyn Museum in New York from December to February.

In 1943, Munch continued to have great capacity for work, and he celebrated his 80th birthday in December.

Edvard Munch died quietly at Ekely on 23 January 1944.

Munch left approximately 1,150 paintings, 17.800 prints, 4,500 watercolours, drawings and 13 sculptures, as well as writings and literary notes to the City of Oslo.