Munch, Edvard

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra
  • Date of entry: Nov-10-1999
  • Last revised: Nov-18-2003


Seated centrally on bed and canvas, legs tightly pressed together, hands clasped between them, covering herself, a naked, adolescent girl stares directly at the viewer. Her expression is serious, tense, anxious. (Or is it coy and seductive?) Shy and defenseless, her thin lovely, virginal body contrasts with its dark amorphous shadow cast on the wall behind her.


The shadow did not appear in Munch's earlier versions of this work nor in the later (1903) etching. Critics hypothesize it is meant to accentuate the trepidation relating to her awakening sexuality, or a menacing sign of death. The shadow's form is rather like a woman's head of long hair which is a motif in many of his works.

Whether a body (e.g., "Vampire'") or decapitated head drained of life-blood, entangled in his mistress's hair (e.g., "Salome"), or a mourning figure more loosely (but still literally) connected to his withdrawing lover by the long strands of her hair (e.g., "Separation" series), the symbol depicts the erotic, destructive power of sexual union with woman.

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.


Executed in 1894.