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Edvard Munch
Photo: Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Edvard Munch

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Norwegian painter Edvard Munch is widely known for his iconic pre-Expressionist painting "The Scream" ("The Cry").

Who Was Edvard Munch?

Painter Edvard Munch established a free-flowing, psychological-themed style all his own. His painting "The Scream" ("The Cry"; 1893), is one of the most recognizable works in the history of art. His later works proved to be less intense, but his earlier, darker paintings ensured his legacy. A testament to his importance, "The Scream" sold for more than $119 million in 2012 —s etting a new record.

Early Life and Education

Munch was born on December 12, 1863, in Löten, Norway, the second of five children. In 1864, Munch moved with his family to the city of Oslo, where his mother died four years later of tuberculosis — he beginning of a series of familial tragedies in Munch's life: his sister, Sophie, also died of tuberculosis, in 1877 at the age of 15; another of his sisters spent most of her life institutionalized for mental illness; and his only brother died of pneumonia at age 30.

In 1879, Munch began attending a technical college to study engineering but left only a year later when his passion for art overtook his interest in engineering. In 1881, he enrolled at the Royal School of Art and Design. The following year, he rented a studio with six other artists and entered his first show, at the Industries and Art Exhibition.

Commercial Success

Three years of study and practice later, Munch received a scholarship and traveled to Paris, France, where he spent three weeks. After returning to Oslo, he began working on new paintings, one of which was "The Sick Child," which he would finish in 1886. In what would be seen as the first work to represent Munch’s break from the realist style, the painting symbolically captures intense emotion on the canvas—specifically depicting his feelings about the death of his sister nearly nine years earlier.

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From 1889 (the year his father died) to 1892, Munch lived mainly in France—funded by state scholarships — embarking on the most productive, as well as the most troubled, period of his artistic life. It was during this period that Munch undertook a series of paintings he called the "Frieze of Life," ultimately encompassing 22 works for a 1902 Berlin exhibition. With paintings bearing such titles as "Despair" (1892), "Melancholy" (c. 1892–93), "Anxiety" (1894), "Jealousy" (1894–95) and "The Scream" (also known as "The Cry") — the last of which, painted in 1893, would go on to become one of the most famous paintings ever produced — Munch’s mental state was on full display, and his style varied greatly, depending on which emotion had taken hold of him at the time. The collection was a huge success, and Munch soon became known to the art world. Subsequently, he found brief happiness in a life otherwise colored by excessive drinking, family misfortune and mental distress.

Later Years and Legacy

Success wasn't enough to tame Munch's inner demons for long, however, and as the 1900s began, his drinking spun out of control. In 1908, hearing voices and suffering from paralysis on one side, he collapsed and soon checked himself into a private sanitarium, where he drank less and regained some mental composure. In the spring of 1909, he checked out, eager to get back to work, but as history would show, most of his great works were behind him.

Munch moved to a country house in Ekely (near Oslo), Norway, where he lived in isolation and began painting landscapes. He nearly died of influenza in the pandemic of 1918-19, but recovered and would survive for more than two decades thereafter, dying at his country home in Ekley on January 23, 1944. Munch painted right up to his death, often depicting his deteriorating condition and various physical maladies in his work.

In May 2012, Munch's "The Scream" went on the auction block, selling at Sotheby's in New York for more than $119 million — a record-breaking price — sealing its reputation as one of the most famous and important works of art ever produced.

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