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Edward Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) : Madonna (1895-1902)

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  1. Introduction
  2. Edward Munch in a historical context
  3. Characteristics of Norwegian art before Munch
  4. Munch's experiments with multiple techniques
    1. A painting suggesting that Madonna is injured
    2. The importance of the frame
    3. Death and the Maiden: A young woman embracing a skeleton
  5. A personal style
  6. Oskar Kokoschka inspiration: Munch's
  7. Conclusion
  8. Bibliography

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. [...]

[...] There is a kind of ambiguity in this painting in so far as the features of the Madonna seem to be peaceful and harmonious, even if all her face and her body are made by little thin dark lines closely put together, to create shadows that can remind us to scratches. So, suggesting that Madonna is injured, Munch introduces violence and death feeling in this work. The idea of struggle is also evoked by the hair of the woman which seems to be completely tangled and tousled. [...]

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