In the years 1889-91, Munch lived in France, supported by an artist’s bursary from the Norwegian state. When cholera broke out in Paris in December 1889, Munch moved to Saint-Cloud, outside the city. There he rented the floor above a café, which commanded a beautiful view of the Seine. In the atmospheric and melancholy Night in Saint- Cloud, we see both the inside of his dark room and the view through the window late at night. At the window sits a man lost in thought. It might be a friend, the Danish poet Emanuel Goldstein. Shortly afterwards, Munch would design the vignette for Goldstein’s anthology of symbolist poems Alruner (1891), an illustration that served as predecessor to Melancholy (1892), now in the National Museum’s collection.
In the catalogue to his 1929 exhibition at Blomqvist Fine Art, Munch published a few “Brief excerpts from my diaries – 1889-1929”. Among the various remarks, we find the famous statement that later became known as his “artistic manifesto”. He dated this to Saint-Cloud 1889: “The subjects of painting will no longer be interiors, with people reading and women knitting. / They will be living, breathing people who feel and love and suffer–. / People will understand what is sacred in these things and doff their hats as in a church.” This is followed by a remark which the artist dates to 1889-1900: “I paint not what I see but what I saw.” In these statements Munch registers his distance from the accurate depictions of realism.
Night in Saint- Cloud was painted at around the time he wrote this “manifesto”. But it took several years before Munch seriously rejected the inner world in favour of the exterior one. Night in Saint-Cloud was first exhibited at the National Annual Autumn Exhibition in 1890 with the title Night. It was purchased for the National Gallery from Dr. Fredrik Arentz’ estate in 1917.
Text: Marit Ingeborg Lange
From "Edvard Munch in the National Museum", Nasjonalmuseet 2008, ISBN 978-82-8154-035-54