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Edvard Munch: Behind the Scream Paperback – June 14, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0300124019 ISBN-10: 0300124015
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Most famous for his painting The Scream, an iconic expression of anxiety and a reflection of his inner torment, Edvard Munch strove to paint his "soul's diary," a quest Prideaux chronicles incisively in this fascinating study. The first comprehensive English-language biography of Munch (1863–1944) presents an in-depth artistic, intellectual and psychological portrait of the Norwegian artist. A novelist and art historian, Prideaux (Magnetic North) enlivens her narrative with excerpts from Munch's diaries, effectively tracing the roots of his mental suffering: his father's religious fanaticism, the death of his mother and favorite sister, the insanity of another sister and the fear that he would go mad himself. Prideaux also charts Munch's intellectual influences, his immersion in Nietzsche and Dostoyevski and his involvement with a group of radical Norwegian intellectuals, including Hans Jaeger (a founding father of existentialism), and his later notable association with playwright and painter August Strindberg. Munch's angst-ridden paintings, imbued with fears of sex, illness and death, shocked the conservative Norwegian public, but found a receptive audience in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, where the study of mental disorders was coming into vogue. This penetrating account of his life sheds light on the inner demons that drove him to create these disturbing images. (Oct)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Edvard Munch (1863-1944) has always generated controversy. Long after his best-known work, The Scream, attained iconic status as a Mona Lisa of modern angst, it was brazenly stolen from Norway's National Museum as though Munch exerted what art historian Prideaux described as his "psychotic inability to part with his paintings" from the grave. Not to mention taking a final swipe at a society that vilified him. As one reads Prideaux's meticulously detailed yet always companionable and often startling account of Munch's dramatically difficult life and extraordinarily intense psyche, one marvels that he lived so long and achieved so much. Buffeted by his father's hellfire religious beliefs, his mother's and sister's early deaths, and his own grave illnesses, Munch turned to drawing and writing as modes of survival, and so extensive are his compelling journals, Prideaux makes Munch's voice a key aspect of her narrative. Prone to visions and indifferent to convention, Munch drank to excess, went hungry, became enmeshed in harrowing romantic entanglements, and suffered vicious condemnation of his shocking work. As Prideaux vividly chronicles Munch's tumultuous life in turbulent times in Norway, Paris, and Berlin, the reader's appreciation of this bold spirit who risked all to descend into the realm of archetypes and create art depicting "the secret life of the soul" grows exponentially. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 391 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (June 14, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300124015
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300124019
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #417,626 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By James R. Holland VINE VOICE on June 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a long time fan of Edvard Munch's art, this is the best of all the biographies I've read about the artist including his own private dairy. "The Private Journals of Edvard Munch: We Are Flames Which Pour Out of the Earth" by Munch and translated by J. Gill Holland (no relation to this reviewer) should also be checked out by Munch admirers. Sorry about that digression--back to this wonderful biography. Sue Prideaux's nearly four-hundred page history first caught my attention on the "New Releases" tables of at the Boston Antheaum. After leafing through the volume, I immediately ordered my own copy because I knew it was a book in which I'd want to dog-ear pages and scribble comments in the book's margins. The beginning of the book was difficult to read. Munch's father was a religious zealot who made his living as a physician. Unfortunately, even with his own family, he seemed more interested in saving a person's soul than sometimes saving their life or curing them of their ailments. His very fanaticism overwhelmed Young Edvard Munch and the rest of his family. Munch's mother and sister died of TB and he himself barely survived it in his youth. The author's description of life in the Munch household was so depressing that it almost made me stop reading. It was certainly not a good advertisement for practicing this brand of Christianity. It's little wonder that in adulthood Edvard Munch became addicted to acholol and drugs. He was afraid to give them up because he felt his inspiration was one of the results of the drunken fog that often enveloped him. Once he finally committed himself for treatment, he was forced to clean up his act and he discovered his inspiration wasn't coming from a bottle. This book is a wonderful portrait of Munch and the era in which he lived.Read more ›
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Munch reviewer on March 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The power of the book is that it provides a map for the emotional trajectory of Munch's inner life; from hope and excitement to depression and mania. Throughout his life he painted only what was true for him, whether actual events or metaphorical motifs. Munch lived what we see in his paintings. However, Prideaux attempt to validate Munch's images leads to a simplification of details.

For instance quoting a letter to the head of the National Art Gallery in Norway, Jen Thiss, Munch writes: "The greatest color is black, the most essential color. It is the `tabala rasa' for pure expression. Nothing prostitutes it.' (Prideaux page 179). If Prideaux would have looked further she would have realized Munch was actually quoting Odilon Redon's from his book, To Myself. This particular quote was highlighted for the recent exhibition of works by Redon at the Oct. 2005-Jan. 2006 at the Museum of Modern Art; Seeing the Invisible (p.67 of MOMA catalogue).

More misrepresentation lies in chapter 13 concerning what most art historians feel was a turning point in his artistic achievement, The Scream. Prideaux first describes its pictorial development with a painting called Despair, she writes; "Despair was his first attempt at the scream. It is a side portrait of the himself set against the bay of Kristiania, the town that was the seat of all his misery. In her very next sentence however, she says, "The figure walking against the flow of the crowd in the middle of the street with is his back to us is Munch's".(Prideaux, p.134). Unless one was very familiar with Munch's paintings they would never know that she is no longer talking about Despair, but has jumped to Munch's painting of Evening on Karl Johan.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dag Stomberg on May 9, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Munch's correlation between life and artistic work is unusually close.
He created a body of work that was intensely personal.

Sue Prideaux introduces the reader to what kind of person has created
this extraordinary art and she does it very well. This compelling book
reveals the life and work of a fascinating man and is invaluable for
anyone interested in a captivating saga.
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20 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on October 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There is probably no more fiercely recognizable image in modern art than Edvard Munch's _The Scream_ (1893). The nightmarish picture seems so essential to our way of looking at modern life that many people do not know anything of Munch's other works, which is a shame; he lived eighty years and was productive through them all. His most famous work is even in the subtitle of his first full biography written in English, _Edvard Munch: Behind The Scream_ (Yale University Press) by Sue Prideaux. The author seems particularly well suited to her subject. She is part Norwegian and has lived a life shared between Norway and England. Her grandmother was painted by Munch, and her great-uncle was one of the artist's loyal patrons. She has produced a big biography that is well-illustrated with the subject's works. This is essential. Munch wrote, "Just as Leonardo studied the recesses of the human body and dissected cadavers, I try from self-scrutiny to dissect what is universal in the soul." Many and varying results of the dissections in paintings and in his profuse journals are included here, making a biography that is surprisingly gripping.

Munch wrote, "Illness, insanity and death were the black angels that hovered over my cradle." He was born in 1863, and tuberculosis took his beloved mother and sister when he was a boy. His father, Munch wrote, "temperamentally nervous and obsessively religious... From him I inherited the seeds of madness." His illness kept him from attending school regularly, but he early showed artistic talent, even though he got little training in art, and often rejected the training he got. Instructors, and the public, could not understand that he had no obsession with painting with physical accuracy, but was obsessed with documenting impressions and feelings.
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