Munch's Vampire is one of his most technically complex polychrome prints, combining woodcut and lithograph and in some impressions a cardboard stencil. The present impression is printed on japan paper which has the effect of holding the ink on the surface of the paper giving an exceptional richness and consistency of printing setting it apart from other impressions of this subject.
Adolf Paul, an acquaintance of Munch's in Berlin describes how he visited the artist's studio one afternoon in 1893 to find Munch at work painting a model with 'long, flame-red hair that fell over her shoulders like congealed blood' Paul recounts how the artist directed him as follows: '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' (quoted in A. Eggum, Edvard Munch, The Frieze of Life from Painting to Graphic Art, Oslo, 2000, p. 173).
So came into being one of Munch's most important and instantly recognisable subjects. Along with The Scream and Madonna, Vampire is central to the artist's exploration of the complex and contradictory nature of the Human condition. It forms a central motif of Munch's great project The Frieze of Life, a series of ground breaking works depicting the range of Human experience and emotion that were first exhibited together in 1902. Within this context it can be categorized in a series of works exploring the theme of love which include Jealousy, Separation and Kiss.
Munch's original title for the subject Love and Pain is strongly suggestive of the emotions central to its meaning. The composition draws together Munch's paradoxical emotions towards love and woman; it speaks of fear, desire and an endless struggle between the sexes. This duality in Munch's work is demonstrated by the figure of the woman who is at once almost tenderly embracing the figure of the man, yet is draining the life force from him. These emotions are heightened by the visual tension which envelopes the image. The composition itself is imbued with an intoxicating intensity which is further heightened by the sense of claustrophobia created by the looming shadow immediately behind the figures.
The title Vampire was adopted by Munch after the exhibition of the Love series of paintings in 1893. The new title was derived from a description of a canvas of the same subject by the poet, critic and anarchist Stansilaw Przybyszeski. It immediately lent the work a literary quality tying it into the very heart of the symbolist and gothic tradition of Belle Epoque Europe. Auguste Strindberg, a close associate of Munch's described the hair of the woman as a 'rain of blood falling in torrents over the madman in quest of unhappiness, the divine unhappiness of being loved or rather of loving' thus Vampire was marked out as a high point in the symbolist cannon.
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