The Dance of Life

Munch, Edvard

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra
  • Date of entry: Aug-14-1996
  • Last revised: Nov-18-2003


A couple by a riverbank, bodies stiffly but tightly merged in the passion of dance, is framed by two female figures--an innocent woman, virginal in white, reaching tentatively towards a sprig of pale budding flower blossoms, looking forward, and a mature, sober figure in black, hands clasped mournfully, looking back. In the background, caricatures of lively, dancing couples embrace orgiastically while the Norwegian moon casts a shimmering shadow over the calm water. The female figures (archetypal) seem to be variations of the same person: the young innocence of spring, the seductive, and the sorrowfully mature.


Munch describes the scene in his diary: "I am dancing with my true love--a memory of her--A smiling, blond-haired woman enters who wishes to take the flower of love--but it won't allow itself to be taken--And on the other side one can see her dressed in black troubled by the couple dancing--rejected--as I was rejected from her dance." This picture clearly indicates Munch's ambivalence toward the women in his life.

He perceived them as both alluring and dangerous: in their youth, symbols of purity as long as they remained unawakened--then when let out of the Garden, becoming monstrous succubuses that drain a man's elan vital. He paints his attraction to the virginal adolescent who rejected him, shows her acceptance of her sexuality with him and/or another man, and perhaps in vengeance, paints her again as a bitter, exhausted matron, who frowns on joy and sexual communication. Yet, because his inner soul will not permit his brush to lie, he creates her, as well, as a figure of tragedy. (See also in this database Shakespeare's My love is as a fever, longing still and Rossetti's Body's Beauty). [For Munch's notes see Bente Torjusen, Words and Images of Edvard Munch (Chelsea Green Publ. Co., Chelsea, Vt., 1986) and Edvard Munch (Editions Beyeler, Basel, 1965)]

Editor's Note: For further relevant discussion of Munch's work, see Judith Stillion's essay, "Death and Grief Made Visible: The Life and Work of Edvard Munch," in Grief and the Healing Arts: Creativity as Therapy, ed. Sandra Bertman, pp. 289-301, annotated in this database.


Dated 1900.

Primary Source

Edvard Munch: The Frieze of Life (National Gallery Publications, London, 1992)color