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Munch, The Storm

Edvard Munch, The Storm, 1893, oil on canvas, 36 1/8 x 51 1/2" (91.8 x 130.8 cm), (MoMA) Speakers: Dr. Juliana Kreinik, Dr. Amy Hamlin. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

SPEAKER 1: We're in the Museum of Modern Art, and we're looking at Edvard Munch's The Storm from 1893. And this is just an amazing representation of something both psychic and naturalist. SPEAKER 2: Yeah. External and internal simultaneously. And the one thing that has really struck me about this painting is how dark is compared to The Scream. SPEAKER 1: Which is the same here. There's such contrast. It's interesting to think about dark and light, and internal and external. If you look at the house, the lights inside are really the only source of bright warmth. I'm then drawn to the woman who is standing right in the front. So this is called The Storm. They must be in the midst of a storm, which we can tell we look around and see the tree bending and their hair flying behind them. So they're standing right near a harbor. SPEAKER 2: Right, or on the water's edge. The painting was made in a small Norwegian seaside resort that Munch frequented in the summer. SPEAKER 1: So all of these women gathered together in this mob scene, but they all look really frantic just worried about their fishermen husbands out at sea, and they're not sure if the men are going to come back because of the storm. SPEAKER 2: What do you make of the townscape? It's such an overwhelming presence. The women are human anchors in the picture. But there is something really animate about those houses. Those windows look like eyes staring back at us. SPEAKER 1: The distance between those women and the house is somehow psychologically really far. The houses on the sides blur into the background, and it almost looks like a twilight scene. SPEAKER 2: Do you know what is is? It's the Northern Lights. SPEAKER 1: Is it the Northern Lights? It looks in the upper left, there's that bit of green. And it blends in in the corner, but it also calls your eye back to the center green of the trees. But I've seen pictures of the Northern Lights, and those can be really green in the sky. And they look really otherworldly. So here it looks like Munch is working on the emotion of the women. SPEAKER 2: And proto-expressionist too. The expressionist painters of Die Brucke and [INAUDIBLE] are both really looked to Munch for guidance in terms of how brush strokes, how mark making become an index of emotion. And you see that especially in the sky. You can actually feel how his paintbrush moved back and forth, and back and forth. SPEAKER 1: And You can see that also in the women-- the gestural stroke that represents their hair flying off. The woman in the center really does anchor that picture now that I look at it more. SPEAKER 2: If you just put your hand up to image, and you take her form out, the composition becomes unmoored. SPEAKER 1: She's a central figure in terms of the painted composition. Everything swirls around that. Then psychologically, who knows how she linked to these other women? All angst ridden and worried, and looking similarly to Munch's The Scream, they're bringing their arms up to their faces and gasping and really with expressions of fear and anxiety. And the woman in the center has the most easily readable bodily features so that you can really see some sort of anxiety externalized. SPEAKER 2: And in an abstract way too, you can see the gesture more in the white clad solitary woman. Whereas this clutch-- their arms, their facial features are really indistinct. It almost becomes an abstract picture. If you just take out that piece, it's an abstract painting. SPEAKER 1: The rocks are all kind of gathered up at the bottom of the painting on the right side, in the right corner. And then look behind the wall that bears down the lane. You can you see the woman in the middle of the blue dress. There's something that feels very claustrophobic, but also very open at the same time, in the way that the composition is mapped out. SPEAKER 2: Munch is also really pulling you into this space. He's using a very Renaissance technique of using the orthogonal to bring us into that vanishing point. SPEAKER 1: It's an amazing painting.