- Edvard Munch
- Signed E. Munch and dated 1894 (upper right)
- Oil on canvas
Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1934 and thence by descent)
(possibly) Berlin, Secession, 1902, no. 194
Leipzig, Beyer & Sohn, 1903
Oslo, Blomqvist Kunsthandel, Edvard Munchs Udstilling, 1903, no. 29
Kristiana, Dioramalokalet, 1904, no. 7
Prague, Galerie Mánes, The Mánes Exhibition, 1905, no. 29
Essen, Museum Folkwang, 1906, no. 36
Bielefeld, Galerie Fischer, 1907, no. 9
Oslo, Nasjonalgalleriet, Edvard Munch, 1927, no. 76
Oslo, Kunstnernes Hus, Edvard Munch Utstilling, Malerier, akvareller, tegninger, grafikk, 1951, no. 56
Oslo, Kunstnerforbundet, Munch-bilder I privat eie. Malerier, akvareller, tegninger, 1958, no. 13
Olso, Munch-Museet, Edvard Munch og den tsjekkiske kunste, 1971, no. 29
Munich, Haus der Kunst; London, Hayward Gallery & Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Edvard Munch 1863-1944, 1973-74, no. 22, illustrated in the catalogue
Warsaw, Muzeum Narodowe, Edvard Munch, 1863-1944, 1977, no. 4
Stockholm, Liljevalchs Konsthall; Oslo, Kulturhuset, Edvard Munch, 1977, no. 22, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Edvard Munch, Symbols & Images, 1978-79, no. 33, illustrated in color in the catalogue
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, The Masterworks of Edvard Munch, 1979, illustrated in color in the catalogue p. 35
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, 1979 (on loan)
New York, National Academy of Design, Edvard Munch, Harald Sohlberg: Landscapes on my Mind, 1995-96, no. 10, illustrated in color in the catalogue
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1996 (on loan)
Lugano, Museo d'Arte Moderna della Città di Lugano, Edvard Munch, 1998, no. 29, illustrated in color the catalogue
Edvard Munch – som vi kjente ham, Vennene forteller, Oslo, 1946, discussed p. 132
Gösta Svenaeus, Edvard Munch: Das Universum der Melancholie, Lund, 1968, p. 188
Edvard Munch, Das zeichnerische Werk (exhibition catalogue), Kunsthalle Bremen, 1970, fig. 15, illustrated in the catalogue
Sue Prideaux, Edvard Munch, Behind The Scream, New Haven & London, 2005, discussed p. 209
Few images in the history of western art possess the symbolic resonance and visual impact of Munch's spectacular Vampire. Second only to The Scream, Vampire is Munch's most recognizable composition, and its powerful iconography has resonated with artists for well over a century. This unforgettable picture features an intoxicating brew of sex, death and willful abandon in the form of a vampire seductress enveloping the object of her desire. At the heart of Munch's portrayal is the paradoxical nature of love, with its components of struggle and release, fear and desire. The present work is the very embodiment of these intense and conflicting emotions. Visually, it is one of the most gripping pictures in the artist's entire oeuvre. The kaleidoscopic background of deep blue, purple and red swells to a visual crescendo, illuminating the central figures in the throes of their dark embrace.
The present oil, dating from 1894, is one of the four original versions of Vampire that Munch executed between 1893 and 1894 (figs. 2 & 3). Munch surrounds his embracing couple in these pictures with a shadowy aura that emanates from their intertwined bodies. The color intensity and position of that electrified silhouette, which varies in each picture, unifies the two forms as one. Munch intended that this passionate image be one of the meditations on love for his grand series, the Frieze of Life, which he first exhibited to great acclaim at the Berlin Secession in 1902. The present picture, which is believed to have hung in that show and appears again in a 1903 exhibition in Leipzig (fig. 10), essentially codified the theme of Munch's darkly romantic aesthetic agenda.
Munch's initial concept for Vampire came about one afternoon in his Berlin studio, during a modeling session when his acquaintance Adolf Paul paid him a visit. Munch's model had "long, flame-red hair that fell over her shoulders like congealed blood," according to Paul, who recounted that the artist directed him to play the following role: "'Kneel down in front of her,' he shouted at me. 'Place your head against her,' I obeyed. She leaned forward over me and pressed her lips against my neck, her red hair spilling out over me. Munch started painting, and before long he had completed his Vampire" (quoted in A. Eggum, Edvard Munch, The Frieze of Life from Painting to Graphic Art, Oslo, 2000, p. 173).
Along with Madonna and The Scream (fig. 5), Munch's Vampire is one of his most profound explorations of the human condition. Munch originally titled the composition Love and Pain, referring to the duality and power struggle inherent in the nature of love. During the 1890s Munch created groups of works that he sub-categorized under the theme of love, including The Voice, Separation, Jealousy, The Kiss (fig. 1), Love and Pain (Vampire), and Madonna. Some of these pictures, including the first oil version of Vampire, made their debut in an exhibition in Berlin in 1893. These pictures were to be a part of Munch's larger project known as the Frieze of Life, which explored the fundamental stages of human development and experience. But when critics first set their sights on Love and Pain, they reacted to the perversely animalistic appeal of the composition. One of these critics was Stansilaw Przybyszeski, the Polish poet, anarchist and alleged occultist, who was the first to clearly identify the obvious vampiric associations of the image: "A broken man and on his neck a biting vampire's face... The man is rolling about in the bottomless pit, weakly, powerlessly, rejoicing in the fact that he can roll about as weakly as a stone. Yet he cannot free himself from the vampire, nor can he free himself of the pain, and the woman will always be sitting there, forever biting with a thousand vipers' tongues, with a thousand poison fangs" (S. Przybyszeski, Psychic Naturalism, 1894, reprinted in ibid., p. 174).
Vampire, as the picture came to be known, was a sensation from the start. Intellectuals responded to the dynamic exchange of power presented so boldly in this picture, and the public was thrilled by Munch's romanticizing of the macabre. Even the Swedish writer August Strindberg, Munch's close acquaintance who referred to the painting as Red Hair, had the following to say about this captivating scene: "Golden rain falls down on the unhappy man who is down on his knees asking his negative self for the kindness of being killed by pinpricks" (August Strindberg, 1896, reprinted in B. Nierhoff, "Two Human Beings (The Lonely Ones) – On the role of women and men in the work of Edvard Munch" in Munch Revisited, Edvard Munch and the Art of Today, Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Dortmund, 2005, p. 39).
Vampire resonated on many levels with the Symbolist and Gothic tastes of Belle Epoque Europe. By the late 1890s, images of diabolical women pervaded popular culture as reminders of the dangers of unrestrained female sexuality. Art salons across Europe were experiencing a resurgence of images of biblical Salomes, but Munch was the first to personify this perceived feminine threat with a more psychologically complex representation. Vampire exemplified the tenderness and sexual desire inherent in a romantic relationship through images of the macabre. Intentional or not, the 'flame-haired' vixen in this picture surely calls to mind Renaissance depictions of red-headed Judith and the decapitated Holofernes (fig. 7), who was powerless to the vices of lust and desire.
Munch always insisted that this profoundly loaded image was nothing more than "just a woman kissing a man on the neck" (Edvard Munch to Jens Thiis, circa 1933, reprinted in R. Stang, Edvard Munch, The Man and his Art, New York, 1977, p. 107). In fact, it has been suggested that Vampire was probably inspired by the artist's own sexual experiences (fig. 11). In his notebooks from the mid 1880s, the artist sketched his ideas for this picture, basing them upon his own emotional yearnings to "rest against a woman -- against her breast -- for someone to stroke his hair -- and then to rest, just rest and feel the warmth of her body -- And she would whisper to him, kiss him softly on the hair" (quoted in A. Eggum, op. cit. p. 178). As Arne Eggum tells us, "In his notes, Munch describes an experience of his own which sheds light on the motif Love and Pain. Again it is in his affair with 'Mrs. Heilberg' [Mrs. Thaulow] that the fundamental elements appear to lie. In autumn 1885 Munch obtained a studio in Haumannsgate, where the couple could meet, and one of the details he relates about that time is as follows: 'he reached out towards her with his thin arms and pulled her down beside him....threw his arms around her and buried his head in her -- for a long time he lay like this"' (ibid., p. 176.). That same tenderness is beautifully captured in the present picture.
For several decades after he painted it, Munch publicly rejected the title Vampire for this image. On the occassion of the 1918 exhibition of the Frieze of Life, he even went as far as calling a later version of it A Woman kissing the back of a Man's Neck. But Munch was accused by his friends of being too literal, and he ultimately accepted the more alluring descriptive of Vampire, as the painting is known today. "It was the time of Ibsen," Munch said of the period, "and if people were really bent on revelling in symbolist eeriness and called the idyll Vampire -- why not?" (quoted in S. Prideaux, op. cit., p. 209). Regardless of the artist's intentions, this image had an extraordinary aesthetic impact on artists of Munch's generation. Most notable of them was Gustav Klimt, whose famous The Kiss (fig. 4) reverses the power dynamic between the red-haired woman and her lover, transforming the relationship into a more traditional symbol of romance. Today, Vampire still entrances audiences around the world as the emblem of sex and seduction, a particular and daring type of romance that is rarely depicted in early modern art. It is one of those rare, iconic images that stands apart from its original historical context, and continues to be revered and repeatedly referenced in the cultural lexicon of contemporary art (fig. 6).
As mentioned earlier, the present painting is one of four oil Vampires that Munch completed between 1893-94. Although it is closely related to the other three pictures, the present work has additional tones of red that electrify the drama of the vampiric exchange. The first oil from this group, painted in 1893, is in the Museum of Art, Gothenburg. The other two oils from 1893, along with a pastel version from that year, are in the Munch-Museet in Olso. This subject would occupy the artist again from 1915 until 1920 as the basis for several pastels, woodcuts, lithographs and later oil reprises, but the paintings from the original group of four offer the most emotionally charged renditions of this theme in oil. The present work, painted in 1894 and sold to Munch's avid collector John Anker in 1903, is the only work from the original series in private hands. It was acquired by a private collection from Anker and his wife Nini Roll in 1934, and it stayed in that collection for over the last seventy years.
This work has been requested for the upcoming exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, entitled Becoming Edvard Munch: Influence, Anxiety, and Myth, to be held from February 14, 2009 until April 26, 2009.
This work has also been requested for the upcoming exhibition at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Casa de las Alhajas of Fundación Caja in Madrid, entitled Tears of Eros, to be held from October 20, 2009 until January 31, 2010.