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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The (Partially Aborted) Munch Lecture: Part 4 (The Scream)

“Did you ever hear the cry of heaven?  No?  Well, let me tell you I did, I saw heaven crying;  It seemed as if the whole sky opened its thousands of mouths and hurled down molten colors into space.  The whole sky, an endless expanse of stripes ranging in color from from dark red to black.  Congealed blood – no, a pool reflecting a purple sunset, and then dirty gold.  Ugly, disgusting, but superb.”

-From Munch’s friend Stanislaw Przybyszewski’s 1896 novel Overboard,  in a direct response to The Scream Read the rest of this entry »

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The (Partially Aborted) Munch Lecture: Part 3

In continuing the discussion of Munch as either a) paranoid misogynist, b) panderer to the rising trend of woman-bashing or c) a bit of both, it is notable to stress  again the paradox between his genuine paranoia; his frailty arising from his several heartbreaks and deaths of his mother and sister;  and his keen perception of cultural and literary trends instilling misogynistic fears in the (primarily male) public. Read the rest of this entry »

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The (Partially-Aborted) Munch Lecture: Part Two

“My fear of life is necessary for me.  Without anxiety and illness I would be a ship without a rudder”

Upon his return to France in 1890 Munch received news of his father’s death.  Far from inured to deaths within his family, he nevertheless must have felt this loss as something of a relief.  He knew the old man had suffered terribly since the death of his wife Laura (Munch’s mother), and that his religious mania had driven him quite literally insane.  Read the rest of this entry »

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The (Partially-Aborted) Munch Lecture: Part One

On Monday, August 27th, I gave a (partial) lecture entitled “Edvard Munch: His Life and Work in Context” for the venerable Nerd Nite lecture series at the Middlesex Lounge in Cambridge.  (It was even written up on the blog Four Letter Word.  While I didn’t think I was “timid”,it was a very complimentary write up, so a breezy island-style mahalo for that.)  I had planned on speaking for about an hour and a half, and less than 24 hours before the event was informed that the talks generally last 20-30 minutes.  “You should have found out ahead of time how long it was supposed to go!”, the sapient reader shouts at the screen.  Well, no shit. Read the rest of this entry »

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