- Edvard Munch
- signed Munch (lower right)
pastel and crayon on paper
Torleif Mørk, Oslo
Galerie Beyeler, Basel (acquired from the above in 1965)
Private Collection, USA (acquired from the above in 1967. Sold: Sotheby's, London, 4th February 2004, lot 424)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Edvard Munch, 1965, no. 16, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (as dating from circa 1900)
Gerd Woll, Edvard Munch, Complete Paintings, Catalogue Raisonné, London, 2009, vol. I, no. 373, illustrated in colour p. 359
The image of a man and a woman locked in a fatal embrace ranks among one of the most iconic subjects of Munch's art. In 1892, the artist began to realise a series of pictures illustrating an emotional sequence. This project, which Munch eventually titled The Frieze of Life, was to incorporate all of his major work to date. His first sequence of works was exhibited in Berlin in 1893 and included a version of this image, exhibited as Love and Pain, referring to the duality and power struggle inherent in the nature of love. Munch's friend, the writer Stanislaw Przybyszewski, gave the title Vampire to this composition after seeing the exhibition, and it was soon adopted by Munch himself.
Dieter Buchhart wrote: 'The title appears to identify the subject clearly: a woman with long, red hair bending over a man, sucking the vital power from her victim's body. Like a vampire, she draws strength from the opposite sex and destroys it at the same time. We find this interpretation in a description written by Przybyszewski in 1894: "A broken man, and the face of a biting vampire on his neck... There is something terribly calm and passionless in this picture; an immeasurable, fatal quality of resignation. The man there rolls and rolls into abysmal depths, without will, powerless, and he is happy to be able to roll on with as little will as a stone, yet he cannot rid himself of the vampire, cannot rid himself of the pain, and the woman will always sit there, biting forever with a thousand adders' tongues, with a thousand poison fangs"' (D. Buchhart in Edvard Munch – Theme and Variation (exhibition catalogue), Albertina, Vienna, 2003, p. 193).
Between 1893 and 1895, Munch executed four versions of Vampire in oil (fig. 1), surrounding his embracing couple with a shadowy aura that emanates from their intertwined bodies. In the present work, Munch has moved the shadow to the right of the figures, indicating a source of light coming from the left, illuminating the woman's bright hair. While Munch himself later said that this image was nothing more than 'just a woman kissing a man on the neck' (E. Munch to Jens Thiis, circa 1933), the various versions of Vampire caused a sensation among his contemporaries. This intense and psychologically complex subject is now recognised as one of the most powerful and important images in Munch's œuvre.
Fig. 1, Edvard Munch, Vampire, circa 1895, oil on canvas, Munch-Museet, Oslo