A young woman stands washing herself. The room is simple and austere. There is no indication of opulence or a luxurious way of life. Half turned away, the girl’s naked back and slender figure is illuminated by light from the window in the background. The window seems to echo the picture’s upright format, marking a separation from the world outside. Is it sunlight or moonlight that we see, morning or evening, day or night?
The scene is intimate and revealing. We are witness to a private moment in which the woman is also vulnerable. Such intimate interior scenes were popular in the late 19th century, especially in Paris, where artists such as Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Pierre Bonnard worked with this kind of motif. Munch painted the picture during a stay in Paris in 1896. For several years he had been depicting women in various large format, broodingly symbolic works linked to his “Frieze of Life” (including Madonna, The Kiss, Vampire and Dance of Life). In this work the woman is depicted in a more prosaic and mundane context. It is one of the first in a series of related nude studies that shows a different aspect of Munch’s creative activity.
The paint is applied in thin, semi-transparent layers, creating an almost translucent quality. The texture of the wood panel on which the work is painted can be seen in many parts of the picture. Together with the subtle use of colour, this creates a poetic dimension, while simultaneously emphasising the work’s inherent pictorial quality.
This painting was donated to the National Gallery by Olaf Schou in 1909.
Text: Øystein Ustvedt
From "Edvard Munch in the National Museum", Nasjonalmuseet 2008, ISBN 978-82-8154-035-54