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Eduard Munch (1863-1944)

Eduard Munch (1863-1944) was a Norwegian painter, engraver, and printer. He is often reputed to have been a loner and a misogynist. Many of his works revolve around a motif concerning women and their obscene vulgarity. The two works that will be described here are Vampire (1893) and Jealousy (1896). These two depict women as creatures of temptation, petty provokers of pain, and selfish enslavers of vulnerable men. To just marginally understand Munch’s hatred of women, one must read upon his tragic past.

Tuberculosis killed his mother when he was only five years old; it killed his sister, Sophie (whom Munch felt closest to), nine years later. In addition to these tragic events were his unsuccessful love affairs which all together bludgeoned his faith in women. In Vampire, Munch displays a scene in which a woman seems to be embracing a man. She appears to be kissing him on the neck, but the title of the work diminishes that meaning. Although Munch intended the action of the work as just a kiss, he later changed the name to “Vampire,” possibly to capitalize on the 19th century literary obsession with vampires.

The intense switch in meaning plays on the mind of the viewer very curiously. It turns from compassion for the two lovers to sympathy and sorrow for the victimized man. The woman’s red hair becomes almost demonic and the background’s darkness transforms from a sorrow-filled unity between the two figures to a desolate ambiance of confusion. The dark green in the background is tranquil, but the viewer’s knowledge of the situation happening to the vulnerable man leaves the viewer in a state of ambiguity.

A peaceful image is portrayed, but the woman is literally sucking the life out of the man. The red hair can be seen as a rainfall of blood emasculating the victim. The man has been deceived into finding love where there is unhappiness. He has found the tortures of being in love. The distorted and tangled strokes in the whole work represent the man’s faith in love being distorted and tangled. The strokes can also portray the woman’s deception, which is so fabricated by her “loving” embrace. Jealousy also carries the tormented-man motif.

In this scene, a woman is chatting with and exposing her body to a man as her husband stands by, swallowing his painful jealousy. The husband’s face is close-up and facing the viewer, demonstrating his quiet enragement. In his face, one can conclude that the wife’s flirtatious actions are not new to him. His figure is up against a black and bushily-painted background, representing his torment. The same color is also used in the tree, which the woman is standing against, confirming that the pain in her husband is caused by her immoral behavior.

The way the woman exposes herself degrades her from a divine nudity to a depraved nakedness. An Adam and Eve predicament is obviously characterized here. The woman is reaching up for an apple, denoting Eve’s commencement of original sin. The apple aptly possesses the same color as the woman’s open dress, signifying her similarity to the poisonous apple. In addition to that, there is a blood rose, which Munch perceptively placed between the husband and the scenario behind his dark and tortured soul.

This blood rose is like a heart bleeding and melting, or a soul crying red tears, crying because of a disconsolate love. In comparison, Vampire and Jealousy both use dark colors to symbolize pain, loneliness, confusion, and vulnerability. The victim in Vampire is having his life taken away; the husband in Jealousy is having his soul melt away. Both use transference and a transfusion of blood symbolism. In the former example, blood (the red hair) drips around the man, and in the latter example, blood melts from the roses.

In contrast, fewer colors are used in the former, possibly to help the viewer to delve deeper into the desolation of the lovers’ relationship. More colors are used in the latter because Munch wanted to display the perversion of the woman seducing the man. Thematically, the two victims in the two works also differ. One male cannot release himself from the clutches of the vampire, producing a feeling of pity from the viewer; the other man chooses not to release himself from the grips of his torment, heightening an awareness of his jealousy for the viewer.

The two works described above are only two of Munch’s many works, which thrives, on his misogynist motif. His unfortunate ambiguity towards females is shown successfully through his use of color, brush strokes (or sometimes engravings), and positioning of his models/figures. Although he did not necessarily command his audience to hate women (since no artist really forces a thinking pattern into the minds of his/her viewers), he decided that through art he could expose them as the evil seductresses he believed them to be.

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