Edvard Munch grew up in a household periodically beset by life-threatening illnesses and the premature deaths of his mother and sister, all of which was explained by Munch's father, a Christian fundamentalist, as acts of divine punishment. This powerful matrix of chance tragic events and their fatalistic interpretation left a lifelong impression on the young artist, and contributed decisively to his eventual preoccupation with themes of anxiety, emotional suffering, and human vulnerability.
Munch intended for his intense colors, semi-abstraction and mysterious, often open-ended themes to function as symbols of universal significance. Thus his drawings, paintings, and prints take on the quality of psychological talismans: having originated in Munch's personal experiences, they nonetheless bear the power to express, and perhaps alleviate, any viewer's own emotional or psychological condition.
The frequent preoccupation in Munch's work with sexual subject matter issues from both the artist's bohemian valuation of sex as a tool for emotional and physical liberation from social conformity as well as his contemporaries' fascination with sexual experience as a window onto the subliminal, sometimes darker facets of human psychology.
In a sense similar to his near-contemporary, Vincent van Gogh, Munch strove to record a kind of marriage between the subject as observed in the world around him and his own psychological, emotional and/or spiritual perception.
Edvard Munch was born in 1863 in a rustic farmhouse in the village of Adalsbruk, located in Loten, Norway. His father, Christian Munch, was a practicing physician, married to Laura Catherine Bjolstad. The family, including sisters Johanne Sophie, Laura Catherine Inger Marie, and brother Peter, relocated to Oslo in 1864, following Christian's appointment as medical officer at Akershus Fortress, a military area which at the time was in use as a prison. Munch's mother died of tuberculosis in 1868, the same year Inger Marie was born. Within a decade, Munch's favorite sister, Sophie, just one year his senior and a gifted young artist, also died of tuberculosis. Munch's father, a fundamentalist Christian, thereafter experienced fits of depression and anger as well as quasi-spiritual visions in which he interpreted the family's illnesses as punishment of divine origin.
Due largely to Christian's medical career with the military, the family moved frequently and lived in relative poverty. Christian would often read to his children the ghost stories of Edgar Allen Poe, as well as lessons in history and religion, instilling in young Munch a general sense of anxiety about (and morbid fascination with) death. Adding to this, Munch's frail immune system was little match for the harsh Scandinavian winters and frequent illness kept him out of school for months on end. To pass the time, Munch took up drawing and watercolor painting.
Art became a steady preoccupation for Munch during his teen years. At thirteen, he was exposed to the works of the fledgling Norwegian Art Association and was particularly inspired by the group's landscape paintings. In the course of copying these works he taught himself the techniques of oil painting.
In the 1880s, seeking a bohemian lifestyle, Munch discovered the writings of the anarchist philosopher, Hans Jæger, head of a group called the "Kristiania-Boheme" (as a central principle of a larger anti-bourgeois agenda, the group advocated liberal sexual behavior, or "free love," and the abolition of marriage). Munch and Jæger formed a close friendship, and Jæger encourageed the
artist to draw more from personal experience in his work. The Sick Child (1885-1886), a somber composition that served as a memorial to Munch's deceased sister, Sophie, speaks to Jæger's profound influence on Munch at this juncture. When the painting was exhibited as A Study in Kristiaian in 1886, it was attacked by critics as well as Munch's own colleagues for its overtly unconventional qualities, such as its scratched paint surface and the work's generally unfinished appearance.
On May 7, 1994, Norway’s most famous painting, The Scream by Edvard Munch, was recovered almost three months after it was stolen from a museum in Oslo. The fragile painting was recovered undamaged at a hotel in Asgardstrand, about 40 miles south of Oslo, police said.
The iconic 1893 painting of a waiflike figure on a bridge was stolen in only 50 seconds during a break-in on February 12, the opening day of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. Two thieves broke through a window of the National Gallery, cut a wire holding the painting to the wall and left a note reading “Thousand thanks for the bad security!”
A few days after the theft, a Norwegian anti-abortion group said it could have the painting returned if Norwegian television showed an anti-abortion film. The claim turned out to be false. The government also received a $1 million ransom demand on March 3, but refused to pay it due to a lack of proof that the demand was genuine.
Eventually, police found four pieces of the painting’s frame in Nittedal, a suburb north of Oslo, and what may have been a cryptic messages that the thieves wanted to discuss a ransom. Finally, in January 1996, four men were convicted and sentenced in connection with the theft. They included Paal Enger, who had been convicted in 1988 of stealing Munch’s The Vampire in Oslo. Enger was sentenced this time to six-and-a-half-years in prison. He escaped while on a field trip in 1999, and was captured 12 days later in a blond wig and dark sunglasses trying to buy a train ticket to Copenhagen.
In August 2004, another version of The Scream was stolen along with Munch’s The Madonna, this time from the Munch Museum in Oslo. Three men were convicted in connection with that theft in May 2006. Police recovered both works in August with minor marks and tears. Yet another version of The Scream remained in private hands and sold on May 2, 2012, for $119.9 million, becoming the most expensive work of art to sell at auction.
Munch developed an emotionally charged style that served as an important forerunner of the 20th century Expressionist movement. He painted The Scream as part of his Frieze of Life series, in which sickness, death, fear, love and melancholy are central themes. Munch died at the age of 81.