In the course of his long life, Munch painted a number of self-portraits. We can follow him through many of life’s vicissitudes, from a young and decadent artist to an elderly, sick man staring death in the face. (See p. 75.) These pictures afford us intimate insights into the artist’s life.
It is the arrogant and self-assured Bohemian we meet in this selfportrait from 1886. The artist was 22 years old at the time and at an early stage in his career. But despite his youthfulness, he was already being noticed among artistic circles in his home country.
The portrait shows us the radical ways in which Munch’s painting was developing in these years. Here he has used surface scratching, and the face seems enveloped in haze. This was a technique he also used in his most famous painting of the 1880s, The Sick Child from 1885–86. Later he would change his painting style in favour of a more flowing brushstroke.
The portrait was purchased by the National Gallery in 1938 with funds provided by Olaf Schou. Formerly it was owned by the lawyer Harald Nørregaard, who was married to the painter Aase Nørregaard, a close friend of Munch.
Text: Marit Ingeborg Lange
From "Edvard Munch in the National Museum", Nasjonalmuseet 2008, ISBN 978-82-8154-035-54