Carole Angier

Paint it Black

Edvard Munch: Behind the Scream

By

Yale University Press 391pp £25 order from our bookshop

‘A shilling life will give you all the facts,’ Auden wrote. This one will cost you a lot more than a shilling, and will give you the facts, but not a lot more.

Edvard Munch should have been a glorious subject. He was handsome, brilliant and doomed. He came from Norway, which means suicidal gloom to start with (vide Ibsen and Strindberg). Then there was his family, tainted on both sides with TB and madness. TB carried off his mother when he was five, his beloved sister Sophie (as we know from his second-most-famous painting) when he was fourteen. His own childhood was dominated by illness, of which he nearly died. His Pietist father was a rigidly religious and unimaginative man, who terrified him with hell and damnation, and with visions of his mother watching from above. But Edvard could draw; and after overcoming his father’s resistance – as inevitable as in a fairy tale – he set off on the life of an artist. And this was like a fairy tale too. First was the struggle to realise a new inner vision, in ‘soul paintings’ of grief, jealousy, melancholy, fear; the poverty and neglect, the incomprehension and outrage – pointillism would give you the pox, Munch was a madman, a hoaxer, a poisoner of art. Then came the turning of the tide, first abroad, at last at home; until Munch was a legend in his lifetime, the author of one of the most iconic images in modern art, by his forties rich, by his sixties a millionaire.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Full of invention which, at its most pedestrian, is eminently Victorian, and at its most unrestrained wildly imagi… ,
    • 'What in other hands could have been a dry, pedantic account of Christianity’s birth and evolution becomes in Holla… ,
    • RT : One of my favourite literary magazines is celebrating 40 years this year. Here is the September edition of… ,
    • 'Now that the Thames is too fast-flowing to freeze, its spirit’s devotees ... have found other climes for their pri… ,
    • 'Bythell glowers past his till at a world in slow free fall.' on the travails of a second-hand book… ,
    • 'It is a scent of animal wrath, of instinctive need, of brutal life which affects the cultured nostrils of our civi… ,
    • 'The day produced countless stories of chance, of people taking one route or another without realising that the dec… ,