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Edvard Munch. The Storm. 1893

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Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863–1944)

The Storm

Oil on canvas
36 1/8 x 51 1/2" (91.8 x 130.8 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. H. Irgens Larsen and acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Funds
MoMA Number:
© 2015 The Munch Museum / The Munch-Ellingsen Group / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Audio Program excerpt

Edvard Munch: The Scream

, October 24, 2012–April 29, 2013

Curator, Ann Temkin: The Storm is a painting that Munch made the same year that he first invented The Scream. This is Aasgaardstrand, which is a resort and fishing village in Norway where he often spent his summers.

What you have is an image of a woman in the foreground who has her ears covered, but if you look at all the women in the row behind her at some distance back, they are covering their ears also. It bears an immediate similarity to The Scream in that what you have is an image of ears covered.

Probably what they're holding their ears against is loud winds. And you can tell by the bending trees in front of the building in the center that it's a pretty horrific wind going. And I think the main thing that informs The Storm is that Munch has the idea of one person who's isolated. And a community of others—here it's five or six other women. You have this sense of Munch seeing the world through the eyes of somebody who is themselves pitted against a community which he’s not a part of.

For Munch, his life was full of far more than your average share of tragedy, starting with his mother dying when he was a very young boy, so on the one hand, yes, there's Munch’s own story of suffering and tragedy. On the other hand, it's very, very emblematic of this period of the 1890s all over Europe when there was a real change in the psyche where the Industrial Revolution had taken hold.

Whether you're talking about philosophers or playwrights or poets or novelists or painters, the enormous change in society brought up the need to express one way or another, the immensity of how the world was transforming while they were part of it.

Narrator: One area of experimentation for Munch and his contemporaries was how they depicted reality.

Ann Temkin: The period during which Munch was painting these works—the decade of the 1890s—was a time when many artists were experimenting with the idea of an image that was painted not really to depict an external reality, but an internal one. And he, like many of his generation, got away from the idea that color is something you use to describe how the world looks. And instead he thought about color as a vehicle for conveying a mood, creating an expressive atmosphere.

And I think probably the most famous example of that would be the paintings of Vincent van Gogh, where those swirling brushstrokes to depict, for example, a night sky in our painting, The Starry Night, make you realize on the one hand, sure, it's a beautiful pattern and makes for an incredible painting. But it also is something about using those swirls, using those ways of handling paint, to convey a psychological or emotional feeling.

The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 44

Munch painted The Storm in Åsgårdstrand, a small Norwegian seaside resort where he often stayed. There had indeed been a violent storm there that summer, but the painting does not appear to show it, or even its physical aftermath; the storm here is an inner one, a psychic distress. Standing near the water, in an eerie blue half–light, half–dark Scandinavian summer night, a young woman clasps her hands to her head. Other women, standing apart from her, make the same anguished gesture—to what end we are not sure. The circle in which they stand, and the protagonist's white dress, give to the scene the feeling of some ancient pagan ritual, even while the solid house in the background, its lit windows shining in the dark, suggests some more regular life from which these women are excluded—or perhaps that they find intolerable.

Munch's art suggests a transformation of personal memories and emotions into a realm of dream, myth, and enigma. His exposure to French Symbolist poetry during a stay in Paris had convinced him of the necessity for a more subjective art; there was no need, he said, for more paintings of "people who read and women who knit." Associated with the international development of Symbolism in the 1890s, he is also recognized as a precursor of Expressionism.

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