Madonna is one of Munch's most popular images. It is a mix between a controversial image linked to a controversial artist, and a transcendent representation of women through different aspects. These are reflected in the different titles that had the painting: Madonna, Conception, Loving Woman, Monna and Annunziata. The first exhibition of Munch's paintings in Berlin in 1892 triggered a real scandal. He had been invited by a circle of painters called the Berlin's artists union. It was the first time that he exhibited his works abroad. Deeply disturbed and shocked by the Munch's paintings, a majority of German artists that were very conservative in terms of style decided to close the exhibition in spite of the protest of some artists among them who were interested in the boldness of Munch's pictures. Only a very few persons could view the Madonna, hidden in the back rooms of galleries. That is why it became of very special image, symbol of the enigma of life and death, the secret of woman sexuality and capability to give life.
If it is difficult to put Edward Munch in a historical context, is because when he lived he had already epitomized the anarchist and individualist figure. He was considered a kind of genius on the fringes of society and removed far the painting movements of his times. According to him, he was living at the beginning of new times. Consequently, he thought the birth of a new century had to match the radical changes in terms of the subject of paintings. In his Saint Cloud Manifesto written in 1889, but not published until 1929, he explained that he wanted to depict "living people who breathe and feel suffer and love". With this, he rejected the emotionally neutral subjects of Impressionism, and evoked his determination to paint pictures expressive states of mind. Consequently, suffering will be omnipresent in his work. Suffering through love towards death, suffering more mental than physical, realized by gesture more than by action, by facial expression more than by event.
[...] If we keep in mind Freud's influence on Expressionism, Madonna can also be seen as a reference to the links between Munch and his mother. She died when Munch was young because of a tuberculosis infection. The same disease caused the death of his sister. In the lithograph, the little embryo is the symbol of a child. In this picture, the little child cannot reach for his mother because his arms are crossed on his chest in a kind of religious position. [...]
[...] They explain instead of given a depreciative image of the female sex, Munch knew to stress the different cultural roles of women. For example, his painting Puberty (1894) depicts a young girl who is becoming aware of his sexual pulses and drives. Consequently, he painted women in different stages of their lives as multidimensional characters. Munch created a very personal style, but he highly influenced other painters. Kirchner's painting Marcella (1909-1910) for instance echoes Munch's Puberty. Moreover Fraenzi with Doll (1910) shows a young naked girl playing with a doll defiantly looking at the spectator. [...]
[...] Consequently, the key points of our analysis are to understand how Munch embodied Expressionism in the late nineteenth century, through the involvement of the inner self, the depiction of women and sexuality, and the fin-de-siècle questions about life and death. A characteristic of Norwegian art before Munch is its realistic and naturalistic form. A painter like Krohg found the models for his pictures in the life of the fishermen and sailors, and under the influence of socialist ideas, he painted the proletariat of the big cities. [...]
[...] To conclude, the lithograph Madonna is highly symbolic of the work made by Munch during his career. It reflects his own life (the relations with his mother), and his psychic troubles (his fear and suspicion towards women), but he embodied at the same time a very broad movement, found in music as well as in painting, that is Expressionism. Despite his very personal style, numerous painters and artists gave their own interpretation of Munch's themes, especially women as femmes fatales. [...]
[...] Munch is thus one of the fathers of Expressionism. The term Expressionism used to describe any modern art work, in which representation of nature was subordinated to the expression of emotion induced by the spontaneous distortion of form and color” . There was a clear new interest in psychological motivation, especially in Vienna where Freud was developing his theory of psychoanalysis. These studies were establishing in a revolutionary way the premise of subconscious domination over the conscious mind. They also were important for musicians such as Richard Strauss or Arnold Schoenberg, who embodied expressionism in the musical field. [...]
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