Behind “Le Cri”, female vampires and the cyclical work of Edvard Munch in Paris

AFP, published on Sunday, September 18, 2022 at 08:41

“The Scream”, a painting elevated to the rank of icon, hides the monumental work in which it is part: that of the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, to whom the Musée d’Orsay is devoting a major retrospective, revealing the vampire women of a obsessive painting, cycle of “life, love and death”.

Conceived as an intimate journey through sixty years of creation in Norway, Paris and Berlin, the exhibition presents from Tuesday a hundred works including fifty major paintings and an important set of drawings and prints coming largely from from the Munch Museum in Oslo.

“He is not the painter of a moment, that of + Scream + or works of the 1890s, but that of a work of great coherence which crosses the entire half of the 20th century”, explains to AFP Claire Bernardi, curator of the exhibition.

At the heart of this work: “The exploration and expression of the great movements of the soul: love, anguish, existential doubt”, she adds.

In the midst of strikingly present portraits of women, men and children, surrounded by the ghostly crowd of Karl Johan Avenue in Oslo or silhouettes dancing and whispering on bridges: a single engraved version of the “Cry “, the first of five, which “shows how much it was not thought of by Munch as an isolated work but part of a cycle”, underlines the specialist, director of the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.

– “The frieze of life” –

The scenography marries this dimension. The visitor seems to be guided by an invisible thread, like the one mentioned by Munch (1863-1944) in his correspondence about the “long hair” of women, omnipresent in certain paintings, which he assimilated to “a kind of telephone wire for symbolize the communication between separated beings”.

“We go from the birth of love to jealousy, despair and the feeling of deep anguish, which leads, a few meters further, to death. Munch does not conceive of it as an end but as an eternal rebirth” , she adds.

Grouped by theme, the works tell of Munch’s women, his bereavement – he lost his mother at the age of five, his older sister when he was 14 – his love of theater and his tireless search for the sacred. His painting will be considered “degenerate art” by the Nazis.

Among them, a series of paintings, central to the work, devoted to the birth of love. Munch called it “the frieze of life” and repeatedly exhibited it in precise montage recorded in sketches.

He made several versions of it from the age of 30 until his death, and entitled it “a poem of life, love and death”, the subtitle of the exhibition.

– Vampire women –

At the heart of this set: “Vampire”, a woman with long red hair cascading over her shoulders, casting an immense shadow that kisses a man in the neck “until vampirizing him.

A particularly striking theme in the work of Munch that is not found in that of his contemporaries” painters, underlines Ms. Bernardi.

“Initially titled + Love and Pain +, this painting – of which Munch made several versions – is both an act of love and ambivalence, almost violence towards the other, which shines through in other works,” she adds.

Because if the woman, major theme of his painting, is represented as a vulnerable child or a carefree young girl, melancholic or joyful but almost always distant, he also paints “the femme fatale, all powerful in her love relationships, a companion who most often leads to the extreme moment of jealousy or even madness, like the seductive Madonna or the red-haired woman, which punctuates her work”, she underlines.

A set of engravings devoted to the theme of the kiss shows the evolution of the love bond.

Over the years, Munch brought faces and bodies closer to the point of representing only one form, a fusion of two bodies dressed in black, with a sort of absorption of the man by the woman.

The article is in French

Tags: Cri female vampires cyclical work Edvard Munch Paris

PREV 10 years separate the before and after photos of these 14 male models
NEXT The MAC Ball in pictures | The business world celebrates contemporary art