Princeton, Princeton University Art Museum, Edvard Munch: Symbolism in Print, 2014
"Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863–1944), like other Symbolist artists and writers throughout Europe in the 1890s, rejected the Impressionist practice of studying the effects of light on the exterior world and instead looked inward to explore themes of love and jealousy, loneliness and anxiety, sickness and death. Although most recognized for his celebrated paintings—including The Scream (1893)—Munch was among the most innovative printmakers of the modern era. His mastery of a broad variety of print media paralleled his rapid development as a painter in the last decade of the nineteenth century. From his first prints, made in Berlin in 1894, to the lithographs and woodcuts that accompanied his triumphant exhibition of the Frieze of Life painting cycle in 1902, the practices of painting, drawing, and printmaking were intertwined for Munch."
Nowhere does the artist’s preoccupation with loneliness, alienation and ultimately, death, present itself better than in the masterful lithograph Angst, executed in 1896. The subject matter of figures in a funereal procession set against a psychologically turbulent landscape epitomized the artist’s inimitable ability to confront the viewer with an intense human mortality. As the art critic James Gibbons Huneker (contemporary to the artist and also a collector of his prints) noted “his death room scenes are unapproachable in seizing the fleeting atmosphere of the last hour; the fear of death, the very fear of fear.” First explored as a drawing in 1889 and a painting in 1895, Angst is considered a synthesis of Munch’s most famous work, The Scream, of 1894. Notably, in executing the lithograph in 1896, the artist dropped the horizon to its lowest point, thus drawing the viewer into the foreground to an even greater extent and intensifying our interaction with the wide eyes of the figures in the forefront. And by coloring the sky a contrasting blood red, he further intensifies the foreboding fear which permeates this image.
Stylistically, the sinuous lines of the red sky and the shorter but equally sinuous lines of the landscape and hair allude to the emphasis on the curves and natural elements of Art Nouveau, while rejecting Impressionism, instead aiming at a flatter, more Symbolic approach to the two-dimensional image. Indeed the inclusion of this striking lithograph in the publisher Ambroise Vollard’s L’Album des Peintres-Gravures announced the artist’s presence in the international art world and his importance as a master printmaker.
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