PRINT October 1970

The Iconography of Edvard Munch’s Sphinx


TO EDVARD MUNCH, AS WELL as to numerous other artists of the 19th century, popular belief attributes the role of the melancholy, lonely titan battling for his art, opposed by the misunderstanding and unfeeling condemnations of the public. This legend argues that from the time he first exhibited in 1883, critics and public consistently rejected Munch’s paintings while he forthrightly defended his esthetic views and absolutely refused to alter them.1 In contrast to this conception, however, Munch’s own statements demonstrate that he consciously sought and worked for popular acclaim and understanding. In some quickly pencilled notes of ca. 1891, he wrote:

Essentially, art derives from man’s desire to communicate with others. For this, all means are equally good. But in painting, as well as in literature, the means are often confused with their purpose. Nature is the means, not the end. If

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