Edvard Munch, the artist who cried The Scream, died in Nazi occupied Norway with few comforts. After a life of committed art Munch couldn’t find the recognition he deserved. Before the occupation Munch had had a semi-prosperous career. During Munch’s lifetime Ida Lund wrote apiece entitled “Edvard Munch” (1937), which marveled at the potential of Munch’s career. Almost seventy years after his death Barry Schwabsky writes “The Oslo Outsider”(2006) from a starkly different angle from Lund and comments on Munch’s faltering. The conflict between these two essayists is that where Lund sees potential for greatness, Schwabsky sees that ultimately Munch left these areas unimproved. Given their two completely different life experiences and access to information their conflict is one of present/past analysis and critics squabbling.
Both authors had firm opinions on the compatibility of Norwegian art with the movements of mainland Europe. Schwabsky sulks at the isolated status of Norwegian art’s place in Europe and counts it as a strike against Munch when he says, “ Scandinavia seemed somewhat removed from the rest of Europe…Though this isolation had no ill effect on his painting, however unfortunate for his reputation”(139). Lund believed that Munch’s isolation made him exotic for he, “sacrificed traditional concepts”(21). She notes that she could not classify him into any of the mainland schools and that he was causing a sensation in Europe (21). Although Munch early career was a sensation, it is his later periods that define his life’s work. The difference of opinion of Munch’s later works could stem from a lack of information about his life.
Schwabsky had the advantage of looking retrospectively at Munch’s life. Schwabsky can then, based on biographic information likely not disclosed during Munch’s life, accredit the stages of Munch’s career to Munch’s mental condition. Schwabsky says that after a mental breakdown where Munch shot himself and drank heavily, “Munch’s art underwent a deep-change, and not for the better, following the severe mental breakdown he experienced in 1908” (142). Schwabsky claims that during his period Munch,” devoted himself to finding symbols of inner life”(141). Both authors agree that in between 1890 and 1910 Munch’s style of art evolved into Symbolism. Lund does not cite mental deterioration as the catalyst of change, instead points that his changing style is a sign of the times, “ as a spiritual brother of Rops, Mallarme, and Dostoevsky Munch’s sense of the wrong in the world matured, announcing his second period: Symbolism. The paintings of this time are inspired by philosophical abstraction and by very complex emotion”(22). Where Schwabsky is searching for reason in a micro-history of Munch’s life, Lund deciphers Munch’s changes as a part of a larger movement. The two authors assign Munch contrary acclaim as a part of the larger Modernist movement.
When it came to awarding Munch worth as an iconic modernist artist they found themselves at odds. Schwabsky writes that Munch could be overlooked as just a bridge between Van Gogh and Matisse (143). He flouts that, “ Matisse and Picasso were more versatile and less predictable”(143). He concluded his review of Munch’s work by saying that, “ Munch is still very much an artist who is waiting to be discovered”(144). Lund retorts this smear when she heralds “Norway’s greatest painter” as a, “ dangerous artistic revolutionary”(21). In defense of Munch’s later works and their predictability she defends him by commenting, “They lack some of the originality of his earlier years, but they show signs of superior intelligence…”(24). Near the end of his career Munch seems to shrivel and vanish and leave the art world wondering what lasting affect his works had.
In closing Schwabsky states the popularity of Munch’s iconic images has made Munch popular, yet in the end left his other works ignored. Schwabsky phrases this best when he says of Munch’s achievements, “Familiar to the point of cliché” (144). With Munch career not yet over Lund remains hopeful for Munch even throughout his late-life mental struggles when she says, “ No one can forecast the goals he is still to reach” (24). Schwabsky’s postmortem analysis of Munch’s life tries to stain Lund’s hope for a revival of Munch’s career. However, from the contrast between these two articles we do not get a clear picture of Munch’s worth.
Schwabsky and Lund are writing about two essentially different Munch’s. To Schwabsky Munch is a relic of the past, a dead art to be excavated for meaning. To Lund Munch is a living contemporary. Is it not natural of Lund to see hope and excellence in a fellow peer? Lund is writing of an artist whose works were relevant in her life and who experienced the same early twentieth century life as she. So it is understandable why Munch resonates in Lund’s eyes and seems like a tired cliché to Schwabsky.