Edvard Munch was born in 1863 on a farm outside Kristiania (now Oslo), Norway. His early work was inspired by the art of the Norwegian naturalist painters, among them his mentor Christian Krohg, but it was not long before he began to look elsewhere for more evocative aesthetic models. He developed his psychologically resonant style in the 1890s and early 1900s, first in Paris and then in Berlin. The paintings from this period ultimately made up Munch's 'Frieze of Life', a cycle of pictures that comprises many of his best-known motifs, including The Screamand Madonna. The Frieze drew largely on Munch's personal memories, including the devastating losses of his mother and favorite sister Sophie to illness, in 1868 and 1877 respectively, as well as his doomed love affair with Milly Thaulow, a married woman. After several years of travel and illness, many spent in and out of sanatoriums, Munch returned to Norway in 1909, where he remained, barring brief trips, for the rest of his life. He sought solace in his native surroundings, turning to the Norwegian countryside and its inhabitants as subject matter for his art. However, as an artist, he never abandoned his interest in the human psyche, as evidenced by a late series of penetrating self-portraits. Munch lived his final years in relative seclusion and died at his estate at Ekely, Norway, in 1944.
Kynaston McShine is Acting Chief Curator of the Department of Painting and Sculpture at The Museum of Modern Art, New York.