Lot 52
  • 52

Edvard Munch

5,000,000 - 7,000,000 USD
5,122,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • Edvard Munch
  • Kvinne som speiler seg (Woman Looking in the Mirror)

  • Signed E. Munch and dated 1892 (lower right)

  • Oil on canvas


Leif Høegh, Oslo

Ove and Westye Høegh, Oslo (by descent from the above and until 1983)

Lionel C. Epstein, Washington, D.C. (acquired by 1991)

Kaare Berntsen, AS (acquired by 2005)

Acquired from the above by the present owner


Kristiania, Juveler Tostrups Gaard, Edvard Munchs maleriudstilling, 1892, no. 24

Berlin, Verein Berliner Künstler, Architektenhaus; Düsseldorf, Eduard Schulte; Cologne, Eduard Schulte; Berlin, Equitable-Palast; Copenhagen, Georg Kleis, Skandinavisk Kunstudstillings lokaler; Breslau, Kunstverein Lichtenberg; Dresden, Theodor Lichtenberg Nachfolger, Victoriahaus; Munich, Kunstverein Lichtenberg, 1892-93, Sonderausstellung des Malers Eduard Munch, no. 30

Kristiania, Kunstnerforbundet, Edv. Munchs udstilling, 1912, no. 5 or 6

West Palm Beach, The Norton Gallery of Art, Edvard Munch: Mirror Reflections, 1986, no. 26 illustrated in color in the catalogue

Paris, Musée d'Orsay; Oslo, The Munch Museum & Frankfurt, Schirn Kunsthalle, Munch et la France, 1991-92, no. 19, illustrated in color in the catalogue 

Copenhagen, Gallery Faurschou; New York, Mitchell-Innes & Nash & Zürich, de Pury & Luxembourg Art, Edvard Munch: Paintings, 1892-1917, 2000-01, p. 11, illustrated in color in the catalogue n.n.

Basel, Fondation Beyeler & Künzelsau, Kunsthalle Würth, Edvard Munch: Signs of Modern Art, 2007, no. 20 illustrated in color in the catalogue

Oslo, Munch Museum, Munch becoming "Munch": Artistic Strategies, 1880-1892, 2008-09, no. 151, illustrated in color in the catalogue


Ingrid Langaard, Edvard Munch: A Study of Early Expressionism and Symbolism, Oslo, 1960, illustrated p. 159

Gerd Woll, Edvard Munch, Complete Paintings, Catalogue Raisonné, 1880-1897, vol I, London, 2009, no. 270, illustrated p. 255

Catalogue Note

Painted in 1892, Kvinne som speiler seg was painted during a crucial transition for Munch, a time when he abandoned Impressionist influences and found a voice that would change forever the foundations of Modernism. Painted just two years after what is widely accepted as the artist's first Expressionist masterwork, Natt i Saint-Cloud (Night in St. Cloud), and one year before he would create The Scream, the present work relies upon an unprecedented dynamism in both form and color. Munch uses vibrant greens to electrify the space upon and around his model while the soft light coming from the window transforms to fiery oranges and reds as it hits the floor. This domestic scene, which finds its lineage in the work of artists such as Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (fig. 1), possesses an emotional intensity unlike any work of these contemporaries.

Munch probably executed this work following a four-month stay in Nice, upon his return to Paris and after viewing the Salon des Indépendants in April. Anne Eggum, however, posits the work was executed earlier in the year while he was still in Nice. The model appears in another work from the same year, Kvinne som grer håret (Woman Combing her Hair) housed at the Kunstmuseum in Bergen (Woll, no. 269). The version in Bergen however is decidely closer to Impressionism in its execution and tone while Kvinne som speiler seg is in another realm altogether. The energetic aura which surrounds the female model in this work presages the artist's iconic image which he would execute for the first time in the following year, Madonna (fig. 2).  

The sense of voyeurism that pervades Kvinne som speiler seg is an intentional element for Munch. There is a clear precedent for this not only in the "keyhole aesthetic" of Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec but also David Caspar Friedrich and Vilhelm Hammershøi (fig. 4). These artists relished the depiction of intimate moments, and the subject of the woman at her toilette lent itself easily. When Munch draws upon this lineage in the current work, he achieves a spontaneity that contradicts the careful detail of these other masters. The woman in the present work does not acknowledge the viewer, looking instead towards what we imagine to be a mirror, placed outside the frame of our viewership.

There is a clear sense of Munch discovering his own artistic identity with such pivotal works between 1890 and 1892. Jay A. Clarke writes, "This growing tension between what was adopted and what was indigenous faced Munch when he arrived home from his extended French stay in the spring of 1892, no doubt conflicted about his place in Norway's artistic community. He would not revisit Paris for three years; instead, he traveled to Germany, where he immersed himself in Berlin's art scene. Soon after his return from Paris, however, he began to explore a new series of motifs, creating works that would come to define his art in perpetuity... These canvases exemplify Munch coming into his own, focusing on images of interior reflection, suggestive sexuality, mystical seascapes, and anxiety-ridden street scenes that are worlds away from the fleeting brushstrokes and bright palette of Rue Lafayette [1891]" (J. A. Clarke, Becoming Edvard Munch: Influence, Anxiety and Myth (exhibition catalogue), The Art Institute of Chicago, 2009, p. 50).

The compositional element of the window in this work becomes an important trope for Munch during the early 1890s, beginning with Natt i Saint-Cloud (Night in St. Cloud) and extending into works such as Kyss ved vinduet (Kiss by the Window, fig. 5). Dieter Buchhart describes the significance of this element, "The window as a frontier between public and private or external and inner worlds is likewise an element in scenes of melancholy as well as in works such as the lovers embracing in The Kiss or even portraits like Alexandra Thaulow. In these works... the sketchy figure evolves out of the background, emerging from it and at virtually the same time disappearing into it, almost without spatial context" (Dieter Buchhart, Edvard Munch: Signs of Modern Art (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 43).

The technical innovation displayed in Kvinne som speiler seg will become a mainstay of Munch's most successful compositions. He looks beyond the conventionalities of oil on canvas, a medium historically intertwined with painterly artifice. With broad brushstrokes and areas of unexposed canvas, Munch eschews a naturalistic reading of his subject. He focuses instead on an emotional resonance, seeking an interpretation that transcends worldly realms - a driving force that will lead him to the first version of The Scream painted the following year. When the Norwegian realist painter, Christian Krohg interviewed Munch in 1892, he wrote "It is the impression of the soul, and nothing else, that he seeks to create; not some picture of random nature" (ibid., p. 26).

Munch's disengagement with the traditions of Western painting in choosing to express emotion and mood instead of visible reality sent shockwaves through the European artistic community. In November of 1892, Munch sent fifty-five works including Kvinne som speiler seg, to a group exhibition in Berlin at the Architektenhaus. The exhibition created an instant scandal, prompting the Kaiser to close down the show only two weeks after it had opened. This act of censorship would eventually lead to the creation of the Berlin Secession in 1898. Painted at the crux of this artistic revolution, Kvinne som speiler seg marks a turning point for Munch's personal discovery and the advent of Expressionism.