A Word

Column: A painful talent? by Jacqueline Alexander
First published in the Henley Standard newspaper

Who was it who said, "I admire the talent but don't envy the pain that created it"?*

It was on this day in 1994 that one of the world's most famous paintings, The Scream, was stolen from its home at the National Art Gallery in Oslo. The painting was recovered unharmed. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the artist after he had completed the iconic artwork.

The creative process left Edvard Munch emotionally spent, physically exhausted and mentally disturbed. He is quoted as saying, "I was stretched to the limit - nature was screaming in my blood. After that, I gave up hope ever of being able to love again."

You can't help feeling that he gave a little too much to the world and should have kept a little for himself.

The painting, depicting an agonised figure against a blood red sky and haunting landscape, came about after Munch went for a stroll with friends.

He said: "I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set. Suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature."

Nature has a habit of making an impact and, on occasion, may make you scream but the gut- wrenching terror that Munch has captured in The Scream is a world apart from anything most of us experience.

How Munch managed to communicate acute pain and fear through this painting is no mystery when you learn how the artist more or less sacrificed his soul to create it.

Munch pondered the dark side of human nature throughout his life - the femme fatale, the hopelessness of love, anxiety, infidelity, jealousy, sexual humiliation and separation in life and death.

It is known that many of his early works were formed from his depression and anxiety which may have been rooted in the deaths of many close members of his family. In 1889, after the death of his father, Munch said: "I live with the dead - my mother, my sister, my grandfather, my father. Kill yourself and then it's over. Why live?"

The Scream was completed in 1893 but even before the deaths of his close family, Munch felt he was destined for madness: "Angels of fear, sorrow and death stood by my side since the day I was born."

Fortunately for us, Munch withstood his inner turmoil and managed to struggle with his demons until 1908 when he was forced, through the increasing intensity of his anxiety, drinking and hallucinations, to seek help.

After an eight-month stint in hospital, Munch emerged brighter and more positive and it showed in his work with a new style that can be seen clearly in pieces such as The Dance of Life - even the title is uplifting.

Perhaps surprisingly, his talent was not compromised as he emerged as a more optimistic soul and, in fact, his new work brought fresh interest.

I am not sure if he ever loved again after painting The Scream but I hope he so, especially if the object of his affection was mother nature herself.

Today, a huge range of Munch's works can be viewed online at Edvardmunch.info. It is easy to see the mood of the painter within each piece and when you know the level of investment made by the creator, it makes for a compelling site - and there aren't many of those around.

*(It was, in fact, Anthony Quinn who uttered those telling words but he wasn't talking about Edvard Munch, he was talking about the man reputed to be one of the best actors of all time, Marlon Brando. But that's another story...)

Next: Just six words

Audio: Jacqueline Alexander presents Web Watch with Phil Kennedy on BBC Berkshire and BBC Oxford:

Copyright: Jacqueline Alexander 2012

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