Notes from ningyo editions studio and gallery

Edvard Munch’s Groundbreaking Contribution to Printmaking

Before Munch’s famous breakdown of 1909, the great Norwegian threw himself into printmaking with a fervor shown by very few of history’s great artists: not only as a master printmaker in the tradition of Rembrandt, Goya, and Cassatt (among others) but as an innovator of striking originality whose influence on subsequent printmakers still resonates, primarily but not exclusively in woodcut.

"In the Brain of Man" woodcut, 1897
“In the Brain of Man” woodcut, 1897


Munch took up drypoint in 1894 – the first of the mediums he was to conquer – for he seemed to have a natural instinct for all available printmaking methods, before taking up etching and lithography on a few weeks later.  Copper was probably the easiest substrate to work on as he could carry it around with him, along with needle in pocket, and draw on site at the gatherings of artists at Zum Schwarzen Ferkal (The Black Piglet, the famous watering hole to the Berlin Bohemia).  Drypoint also made sense as an introductory print medium for its simplicity and lack of chemicals.  Munch’s main focus, however, was on further developing his established motifs from his The Frieze of Life series (which included his most famous early works including The Scream, Jealousy and Puberty among others) in print form.  He seemed to grasp the medium immediately, with a delicacy that his patron Julius Meier-Graefe (the most famous German art-historian of the day, biographer of Dostoyevsky and the first to encourage Munch to try his hand at printmaking, publishing of Munch’s first portfolio of prints), when describing the drypoint version of Night in St. Cloud, wrote: “Like all decent engravings,” (in this case drypoints/etchings) “these prints appear colorful, without any color.  One must be blind – or highly cultured – if one cannot recognize this effect… all of them with the same subject as exceptionally good paintings, which one does not miss here.”

edvard munch, david curcio, death and the maiden, drypoint
Perhaps Munch’s very first drypoint, Death and the Maiden of 1894, with subject matter alluding to sexual attitudes propagated by his fellow tortured bohemians: the Polish writer Stanislav Przybyszewski and the Swedish playwrite/misanthrope August Strindberg.  The fetuses at the border would become an important theme in Madonna and other later print work. Read the rest of this entry »

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