My plan to see and feel Munch’s work lingered in limbo until, spontaneously, it erupted in early September, timing coincident with fortuitous relevancy: Munch painted his first Scream after becoming overwhelmed by a scream of nature inspired by a bloody red September sunset.
So now I lay horizontal in a cubicle on Virgin’s Upper Class, hurtling through the night to London for onward travel to Oslo; a blur of a day in transfer and motion, and already the next night by the time I descend into that strange city (wrote another notable Norwegian, Knut Hamsun) no one escapes from until it has left its mark.
Through the journey, I contemplated Munch.
Munch had sat at his mother’s bedside at the age of three and watched her cough blood and die from tuberculosis.
Heartbreak doesn’t even begin to describe such a scenario, losing your mother when you need her most.
Eleven years later he watched his older sister, Sophie (who had probably become a mother figure to him), succumb to the same unmerciful disease.
Soon after that, Munch’s younger sister Laura began suffering delusions and hallucinations. She was diagnosed schizophrenic.
In 1889, when his father passed, Munch wrote in his journal: I live with the dead.
Munch considered suicide as an option, advocated by his bohemian friends influenced by the philosophies of Nietzsche. Indeed, he set on a path that nearly had him drink himself to death.
All the while, Munch made so many enemies—usually through drunken binges—that for the last thirty years of his life he called Oslo “my enemies place.”
Munch survived it all: the sickness and death, the anxiety, alcoholism, his own encounter with insanity, his enemies.
And he lived to a ripe 80, leaving a legacy that includes a globally iconic image and a museum of his own.
(Munch had no heirs and hated to part with his paintings, which he regarded as his children. He left everything—approximately 1200 works of art—to the city of Oslo, which built them a temple.)