With its lush colours and monumental grandeur, this depiction of a farmer harvesting his produce and of the fundamental needs of life has acquired central significance among the works of Munch’s later period.
After many years without a fixed abode in Europe, Munch returned to settle permanently in his native country in 1909. In 1916 he bought the rural property Ekely just outside Kristiania (Oslo), where he lived until his death in 1944. The house had a large garden that had formerly been used as an agricultural nursery. The verdant surroundings with farmers at work, horses and fields quickly spawned a series of motifs that were crucial to Munch’s work in this period.
The simple composition of this picture, its light colours and rough brushstrokes have a lot in common with Munch’s paintings for the university auditorium in Kristiania. The man is depicted face on, inscribed in a triangle of incisive visual force. His individual characteristics are toned down to the benefit of more general aspects.
The work was painted at a time when World War I was ravaging Europe (as a neutral country, Norway remained outside the conflict). It was a war that provided a powerful corrective to the 19th century zeal for industrial development, making it important to secure supplies of agricultural products. Munch’s interest in the rural way of life in these years can be seen in connection with this history. At the same time, there are similarities between Munch’s paintings of farming life and his depictions of industrial labourers, a field of interest that can be traced back to the years 1907–08.
The picture was donated to the National Gallery in 1937 by Charlotte and Christian Mustad.
Text: Øystein Ustvedt
From "Edvard Munch in the National Museum", Nasjonalmuseet 2008, ISBN 978-82-8154-035-54