Edvard Munch (1863 – 1944)

Kweiseye is an art criticism blog written by Tom Kwei. If you enjoy this article, browse the archive HERE for more than 60 other critiques of both artists and exhibitions. Any questions/queries/use: tomkweipoet@gmail.com

As a Naturalist, a Symbolist and often an Impressionist in-between, Edvard Munch’s back catalogue is a fascinatingly disparate patchwork, one united for the most part through its delicate interrogation of mental trauma. Predominantly noted for these evocative images of existential anguish, such as the oft parodied ‘The Scream, Munch’s skill also shone within his more mannered depictions. And whilst the first piece here is indicative of such restraint, the latter stands as testament to the Norwegian who once claimed, ‘Without anxiety and sickness I would have been a rudderless ship’.

‘Rue Lafayette’ – 1891 


Within this bustling depiction of a French boulevard, Munch plays well with contrasting techniques to convey a sense both of motion and immediacy. Whilst the man and his balcony up top could hardly be said to be of extreme artistic precision, their individualised detail juxtaposes well against the abstract run of life that unfolds below the admirer. Crafting both a sense of height and wonder.

Through the sheer flooding of light within the image, an effect created by a rain of colour consisting of dabs or loosely applied parallel gasps of paint, there is something celebratory and joyous about Munch’s vision of ‘Rue Lafayette’. A feeling that invites the viewer, almost like the watcher himself, to just pause for a minute and take it all in.

Upon closer inspection however, the romanticised clamour below proves to be little more than streaks, with the bottom left section in particular being realised in the briefest of brushes. Everything is perched on just enough detail for it work and evoke a certain passing beauty, from the horses stooped with their carriages to the rooftops that amass further down the diagonal balcony line. The divide of which casts off from the base of the canvas, past a scribbled bouquet and towards the further horizon.

‘The Murderer in the Lane’ – 1919


Disregarding his earlier Impressionist preoccupations, Munch evokes a subtly disturbing vision here through a distinct frostiness in his bold brushstrokes. The sky is especially evocative, with its crisp icy blues juttering around the lifeless upturned branches. Indeed, with such detail throughout the work, you could be forgiven for missing the two figures that in of themselves blend into the landscape. The eponymous murderer sketchily rendered and synonymous in skin with the lane, whilst in the background lays his victim, who passing more perhaps for a fallen tree trunk than a body, is slumped unnervingly behind.

With the killer’s frame heavily cropped as if he was fleeing the scene, the entire painting is given an uneasy menace suggesting the act was one committed recently. No light is shed as to why or how the victim was murdered,  we are rather presented with the simple hollow dots of a guilty man facing us slightly askew. Or, perhaps this person has nothing to do with the image, but it is merely the title that becomes suggestive of so.

In spite of the death though, everything remains unerringly beautiful and moving, which in a way compounds the distracting effects of the lifeless corpse. In the background a small factory of sorts purrs along besides what I assume is an outcrop of water, one that flows and tangles in a soft ridged way. Life simply goes on in spite of this daytime murder.

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