Edvard Munch – “Love and Angst” at the British Museum: 11 April – 21 July 2019

Edvard Munch, The Sick Child 1, 1896 (detail)

Early Trauma

Edvard Munch (1863 – 1944) is Norway’s most famous artist and father of Expressionism, his iconic Scream is a symbol of modern day anxiety and rivals Mona Lisa in “recognisability” even having its own emoji.

Born in Kristiania (modern day Oslo), Munch – pronounced “Munc” – rejected his deeply Christian upbringing and searched for freedom. In childhood he lost his mother and sister to TB and another sister was committed to an asylum for insanity.  Munch and his remaining siblings were brought up by their austere Christian father who terrified them with fireside ghost stories and dealt with bad behaviour by invoking their dead mother’s despair – Munch grew up with death, fear, guilt and madness as constant companions, and family death scenes are a recurring theme in his artwork.  In “The Sick Child” 1907 – we see his aunt prostrate with grief as his beloved sister, Johanne Sophie, slips away.

The Sick Child 1907, Edvard Munch 1863-1944

The Scream – within

The exhibition begins with a self portrait – Munch stares calmly out as us, but his arm is of a skeleton’s although he was only 32. Despite the pull of death Munch lived into his 80s. This exhibition concentrates on his work from the 1890s and 1900s when he was in his 30s and 40s.

His most famous work is The Scream – it shows a person hearing a scream and trying to block it out, not a screaming person, the figure is genderless and universal, linked to nature and the curves of the fjord and sky by its curving body. Munch was walking across a fjord with friends one evening when the “air turned to blood” and he heard “a huge endless scream course through nature” which paralysed him with fear – his calm depiction of companions continuing their walk shows his awareness that the terror came from his tormented inner world.  There are a few of versions of The Scream – 2 paintings, 2 pastels and a number of prints.


Munch loved, hated and feared women – he returns again and again to the theme of the 3 stages of womanhood – innocent teenager, young beauty, and post-fertile hopelessness – in “Two Women on the Beach“ the older woman is shown almost as a skeleton.

Munch harnessed his mental ill-health and drove it into his art “My fear of life is necessary to me, as is my illness,” he once wrote. “Without anxiety and illness, I am a ship without a rudder…. their destruction would destroy my art.” – he was right – following a breakdown he did seek medical help and subsequent work such as “The Sun”, 1911 lack the power of his earlier art – he did recover it as he faced death, lonely, aged and alone, but beyond the scope of the exhibition.

Tips for Visiting with Kids

1     Take a sketchbook!  Kids recall far more if they have really looked closely and drawing is a brilliant way to look closely.

2     Talk about the painting – what Munch meant by a “scream…[running]…through nature“; why Munch made natural things (sky, water and island), curvy and man-made things, straight; is the person male or female; is he or she screaming?

    Draw “The Scream” – colour the water cool colours (blues, greens and purples) and the sky warm colours (reds, oranges and yellows).

Please email photos of your children’s sketches to info@kidsartuk.com

prizes available and a chance to feature on the website!


Exhibition details here with trailer

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