Edvard Munch was born December 12th 1863 in Løten in Hedmark County, but the family soon moved to Kristiania (Oslo) where his father was appointed regimental doctor at Akershus Fortress the following year. The little family consisting of the parents Laura and Christian, and the siblings Edvard and Sofie, settled in the vicinity of the Fortress under rather poor conditions – where the three youngest children, Andreas, Laura and Inger, were born. In 1868, when Edvard was only five years old, his mother died of tuberculosis. This is how he rather gloomily described his family’s unfortunate health situation: “My mother came from peasant stock, a strong-willed family, but one whose roots were worm-eaten by the bug of consumption.” His mother’s sister, Karen Bjølstad, took over management of the household and the rearing of the children, and she would become an invaluable support in Edvard’s life. In 1877 the family was once again struck by tragedy when the eldest sister Sofie also died of tuberculosis.

In 1880, when Munch was 17 years old, he would make the most momentous decision of his life: “My decision now is precisely to become a painter.” These were prophetic words. During the subsequent years he studied at the Royal School of Art and Design in Oslo, he received critique by one of the leading Norwegian painters of the time Christian Krohg, and in 1885 he was awarded his first travel grant and departed resolutely for Paris. There he saw the historical art collections at the Louvre and gained impulses from contemporary art at the Paris Salon. Munch received the Government Scholarship for Artists for three consecutive years, from 1889 to 1891, which again provided him with the means to travel and become acquainted with the most advanced European art.

In the beginning of the 1890s Munch began to work on the series of motifs that would later be named the Frieze of Life. Some of these pictures were shown at the so-called “Scandal exhibition” at the art association in Berlin (Verein Berliner Künstler) in 1892. After a great upheaval the exhibition was closed down after barely a week, and Munch became a “hot” name in the German art world overnight. During this time he had also entered into the circle of artists and writers associated with the pub called Zum schwarzen Ferkel, which was not unlike the bohemian milieu in Kristiania. Ten years after the “Scandal exhibition,” in 1902, the Frieze of Life was exhibited at Berlin Secession. This time Munch experienced widespread artistic recognition and considerable financial success.

A hectic and itinerant life marked by constant travelling and excessive alcohol consumption eventually wore him down and culminated in Munch’s allowing himself to be admitted to Dr. Jacobson’s Nerve Clinic in Copenhagen in 1909. After eight months he was released and Munch decided to return to Norway and settle there. He first stayed in Kragerø and Hvitsten before ending up at Ekely in Oslo, in 1916, where he spent the rest of his life. Munch lived a rather reclusive life at Ekely and had less and less contact with friends and family as time passed. His travelling activity also dwindled but between 1920 and 1922 he visited Berlin, Paris and Zurich, and in 1926-27 he again made trips to several European cities. In 1927 extensive retrospective exhibitions of Edvard Munch’s work were mounted in both Berlin and Oslo. And on his 70th birthday in 1933 he was awarded the Royal Norwegian Order of the Grand Cross of St. Olav. During the winter of 1943-44 Edvard Munch came down with pneumonia and he died peacefully at Ekely on January 23rd 1944 80 years old.


Moonlight I

Colour woodcut, 1895 - 1901, 40,2 x 47,3cm

Old Fisherman

Hand coloured woodcut, 1896, 43,5x35,5cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

Towards the Forest I

Colour woodcut, 1896, 49x64,5

Edvard Munch’s (1863 – 1944) position in the history of Norwegian and international art is due not least to his unique and pioneering graphic art production. Around the middle of the 1890s he began experimenting with the various techniques of engraving, lithography and woodcut. Yet it is above all in the woodcut medium that Munch made his most original contributions. He diverged from traditional xylography, which had been used in reproduction graphics and, inspired by Paul Gauguin among others, he began to work along the grain of the block to produce his woodcuts. Instead of pressing the sheet of paper on successive inked plates in the conventional manner, Munch developed a unique method where he cut the block into pieces with a fretsaw. He then inked the various pieces in different colours and assembled them again before printing the whole block in one operation. Aside from being time-saving, the technique allowed for greater variation in the palette and contributed to tightening and simplifying the picture’s composition and style.

Towards the Forest (1897) reveals how Munch succeeds in exploiting the unique traits of the woodcut medium. For instance as we see it in the sawed line that separates the treetops from the sky, and in the way that the grain and the structure of the wood block is used to create a sense of atmosphere and damp haze along the forest floor. This motif is found in many different colour combinations that are occasionally very different from each other. It is the relationship between the couple in the foreground and the surrounding forest landscape, in particular, that is treated in various ways. In some versions the contrast and distance between the couple and nature is emphasised, while in this example the human figures nearly melt into and become one with nature.

In one of Munch’s literary notes there is a little passage that could well apply to Towards the Forest.

”They entered into an opening in the woods – on both sides tall spruces and birch trees stood – moist and dark against the evening air at dusk – the wet grass glittered. They walked back and forth in silence with bowed heads – the atmosphere around them was as solemn as in church. She leaned into him – rested her head on his shoulder – From time to time she pressed his arm to her breast. No, she was not angry at him – she was unhappy and he was to blame – what could he do – if only he knew – It is getting dark, he said. Yes – And how wet the grass is – no walk there – there it is better. He helped her over a puddle. Thank-you – she had placed his arm around her waist – holding each other’s hands. In the end he kept only one of her fingers and pressed it hard. He looked down at her – she looked as though she was going to cry. Was it – so terrible that we cared a little for each other – the words escaped him. She did not answer – but he felt the pressure of her hand"


Woman\'s Head against the Shore

Colour woodcut in green/blue, red and orange, 1898, 46,5x40,5cm

Vampire II

Litography / woodcut, 1894 - 1901, 50,4x58,7cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter

Melancholy III

Colour woodcut, 1901, 38,2x45,5cm, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter