A naked young girl with loose hair is sitting on the edge of a bed, hiding her crotch with her arms. She stares at us with wide-open eyes. The composition is simple, with the frontally depicted body vertical in contrast to the horizontal lines of the bed. To the left of the girl lies a pillow, to the right a large, dark shadow is thrown on the lighter wall.
The National Museum’s version of this motif was painted in Berlin in the winter of 1894-95. Aspects of Puberty link it to the naturalism of the 1880s. The girl’s skinny arms and immature breasts combined with her relatively large hands and feet are realistically rendered. At the same time the painting has elements that anticipate Munch’s later, more expressive style. The picture deals with a girl’s approach to sexual maturity in a manner that is frank and unembellished. The threatening shadow can be seen as a projection of the girl’s inner state of mind. Comparable shadows feature in several other works by Munch.
Many people have wondered how a male artist could empathise with the emotional world of a young girl in this way. A verbal counterpart of this mood is provided by the Polish poet Stanislav Przybyszewski, who was closely attached to the Scandinavian circle in Berlin at the time:
She sensed it, she didn’t understand […] She couldn’t imagine, she merely felt the wild, quivering shudder surge through her body. She clasped both her hands between her knees, bent forwards and pulled in her feet, and there she sat, huddled up on the edge of the bed, listening in anxious pain to something unfamiliar and frightening. What was it? It came so often, always afresh! It frightened her. It made her tremble. The entire house was full of ghosts. (Translated from Underveis, Kra: 1895).
The picture was purchased in 1909 with a donation from the A.C. Houen Fund.
Text: Frode Haverkamp
From "Edvard Munch in the National Museum", Nasjonalmuseet 2008, ISBN 978-82-8154-035-54