|The Girl by the Window, Edvard Munch, 1893|
But I first got to know Munch as a painter through other works, such as the one above, The Girl by the Window, from 1893. This painting resides in the Art of Institute of Chicago, where I took a class of my students last week. Seeing it reminded me of being compelled by such works when I was a teenager, both for their style and their subject matter. A seemingly ordinary moment -- a young woman standing in her night dress before a window through which the moonlight streams -- is fraught with unsettling intimations of fragility and danger. Is she reading? Is she sleepwalking? Is she looking at someone down in the street? Whatever she is thinking, the painting is entirely painted in loose and close strokes of paint, most of them slanting diagonally from the window into the room. She seems poised between the eerie light of the moon, and the dark green and black interior of the room behind her.
Paintings from the same few years in the mid 1890s also have this mood of dark obsession and unsettled psychological states, such as The Storm, also from 1893:
|The Storm, Edvard Munch, 1893|
Even when Munch painted landscapes, they seemed to become transformed into visions of things that transcend the physical world:
|Moonlight, Edvard Munch, 1895|
Munch is thought of as a wild Expressionist who laid it on the canvas as quickly and as thoughtlessly as possible in order to preserve a sudden rush of feeling. But I find that I can look at his paintings for a long time and get lost in their striking colours, their contrasting shapes, and the variety of their textures. He wasn't just a madman: he was a true painter.