Modeling for Munch

This blog serves so many delightful purposes for me. One is that it provides me with a space to simply share a painting that is either a longtime personal favorite or one I just happened upon via my searches. Today I discovered a knockout that impresses me with both the artistic creation and the modeling.

This painting from the great Norwegian artist Edvard Munch is called Model by the Wicker Chair. A work from 1921, it is considered a late period Munch, or the “Post- Scream” era. It refers to the last two decades of the artist’s life when he was living and working at his home in Ekely located in western Oslo. Today this piece hangs in the Munch Museum in Norway. I may never get there, but if I’m ever so lucky I will no doubt make a beeline through that museum to this vivid and intriguing painting.

The model was Annie Fjeldbu, one of many models who posed for Munch in his studio. A young dancer, she clearly knew what she was doing here. Whether the standing pose with bowed head was her idea or Munch’s, Annie presented it perfectly. The strength, stature, and sensuality of her body is evident, and her mane of long dark hair only adds to her natural charisma. Perhaps these qualities were the reason Munch placed her in a cluttered room setting – maybe he sensed that she could dominate the busy scene and hold her own among the objects, colors and splashy loose brush strokes. Annie is, simultaneously, part of and separate from her surroundings. With different views, she can be interpreted as emerging from the environment or receding into it. Or both. Yes, the blanket on the chair is prominent, but in my eyes Annie still wins. Either way, the composition is fascinating.

This is my new favorite painting. Enigmatic, moody, it just works really well overall. Artists help me out here. Why am I so taken with this painting? One sure explanation is that it conveys an authentic feel of model and artist working together, to which I can certainly relate. That’s probably what attracted me to it in the first place and why it elicited such a strong response. I’m so digging this painting! Great job Edvard and Annie.

13 thoughts on “Modeling for Munch

  1. Jennifer says:

    It’s a very interesting painting, the way her head has to bend so as not to break out of the picture frame. If ever I get to Norway, I’ll look it up, but meanwhile I’m off for a week to a far closer ‘Nor’ place, the eastern English seaside country of ‘Norfolk’. See you in a week! 🙂

    • artmodel says:

      Jennifer,

      Your trip to the English seaside sounds lovely! Actually we will both be on vacation at the same time. I am leaving for Miami on Tuesday, returning on Sunday. So I’ll “see you in a week” as well!

      Have a wonderful, splendid time in Norfolk. And thanks, as always, for your comment.

      Claudia 🙂

  2. vin dolan says:

    Sorry you had a bad day! I been following your blog 2yr. Now and have been impressed with your writing s , information, insight to art ask. I as my models to read your blog if they going to be a muse.

    • artmodel says:

      vin,

      Nice to hear from you after following this blog for two years! So glad you decided to comment. Thanks very much for your kind words, and for referring this site to your models. I hope they are all inspiring muses 🙂

      Claudia

  3. DaveL says:

    Thank you! I’d never seen this painting before and it is now my favorite by Munch. It’s a great one that I probably would never have seen, but for you.

    • artmodel says:

      Dave,

      You and I have always shared similar tastes in art, so I’m not surprised you like this Munch as much as I do. I was so excited to share it with everybody!

      Thanks for commenting.

      Claudia

  4. I don’t know why it appeals to you, but I think Jennifer’s on the right track with the bend of her head. He makes her look larger than the frame – her feet don’t fit and she has to bend to keep from going up out of it as well. He’s also doing a neat trick with eye level and what you’d have to call a wide-angle effect. That is, the eye is above her crotch but below her face – she’s towering over us, as the room towers over us as well. The wide-angle effect comes in the room, which spreads unnaturally around us, and in her belly, which also distorts radically quickly from a level to a high-angle perspective. This rapid perspective shift only occurs when an object is close to the eye – the use of it here cues the eye that the model is not at a safe distance in a flat euclidian space – the model is sharing the space with us. This makes the painting sensually present in a way that a flatter perspective cannot. At the same time, the legs are enormously long, which the mind combines with the perspective shift on the belly to reach the conclusion that the model is incredibly tall relative to the viewer – that is, if her legs are that long foreshortened, they are super-long seen in a normal perspective. So what Munch has here, apart from the colors and brushwork, is the presentation of a really hot model who subliminally reads as 1) larger than the viewer and 2) occupying the viewer’s space. For me, that’s what does it: it’s a hell of a painting, and thanks for finding and sharing it!

  5. Oh, and, uh, sorry if I came off like a know-it-all. I was writing that down as I was figuring it out – I was excited to solve why the painting was so striking (for me). I could be totally wrong.

    • artmodel says:

      Daniel,

      No apology necessary! I love that you did it “stream-of-consciousness” style. And you validated my theory that this painting is much more complex than it seems at first glance.

      Great analysis. I really like your explanation of the perspective. I thought there was something unusual about the scale and the model’s presence in the the visual space.

      I’ve read your comments twice now, and I’m going back for a third!

      Thanks Daniel 🙂

      Claudia

  6. fred says:

    I think Daniel’s analysis is right on, especially about the “wide angle” effect. I’ll add a couple of observations.

    Note that the flesh tones are depicted almost entirely with cool colors. Many of the surrounding colors in the room are the warm colors we would expect to see as flesh tones, but the body is mostly white and blue and green and purple. And it works that way! Somehow it looks natural. It looks like a real perception, not an artificially imposed “fauvist” false coloration. The way I see it is that it depicts very pale, translucent skin. The only part of the body that has rosy tones is the face, which may be blushing.

    There’s also an interesting contrast between the head-bowed pose with hanging arms, which implies inwardness or sadness or submissiveness or shyness or even shame (that blushing face), combined with the muscular legs and lower body and the effect that she is towering over the viewer and we are looking up at her. The nudity, the pose, and the coloration all convey a strong sense of vulnerability, but the strong verticality and taut legs give the figure a contrasting strength.

    All the colors that appear pale and subtle in the figure are also in the background, in deeper and bolder tones. The downcast red face finds its reflection in the fabric that dominates the lower left quadrant of the composition, and which almost looks like a huge face, perhaps a monstrous or armored face. Or is there another body, crouching, wrapped up in that blanket?

    The painting is full of weird elements that create a kind of tension of contradictory feelings rarely seen in paintings of nudes. While no particular narrative is clearly depicted, many aspects of the image subtly imply that there is more going on than just a painter looking at a nude woman. Munch makes it odd enough to make us wonder, but then leaves it to our imagination.

    • artmodel says:

      Fred,

      I hadn’t noticed half of that until you articulated it so well in your comments! Fascinating observations. Like I said to Daniel above, I knew this painting had complex, curious, and engaging elements. I just needed people like you guys to elucidate them for me because I can’t do it nearly as well!

      What Munch did with the cooler flesh tones is masterful. I imagine that Annie had a light pearly skin color which probably inspired Munch’s work with the colors. I’m also intrigued by the mysterious narrative, especially the role of Munch himself. Is he simply a detached observer? Or are he and Annie in a state of communication or interaction of some kind? WHY is her head bowed in a seemingly shy or sheepish way? Maybe she’s just in deep contemplation, oblivious to Munch’s presence altogether? Is he desiring her? We don’t know. Like you said, it’s left to our imagination. That’s what makes the painting so intriguing I think. It’s not your typical “here’s the model posed in a chair sitting still and staring into space” routine. We’ve all seen that hundreds of times. We have not, however, seen this Munch scene nearly as often.

      Thanks Fred for your terrific analysis! I enjoyed it.

      Claudia

  7. Dave Rudin says:

    It’s an interesting painting, Claudia. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. I visited Oslo in 1988 and 1995, and while I’m pretty sure I went to the Munch Museum at least once, I can’t say that I remember this one in particular.

    I won’t comment on how the model’s figure is rendered here as that’s been done already. What fascinates me is the ‘window’ to the model’s left. At first glance, it looks like it could be a window, but if it were, we should see an outdoor scene through it.

    Instead, we see an interior. Could it be a window to another room? Not likely (though I have stayed at a hotel in San Francisco which had interior windows!). Could it then be a doorway to an adjacent room? Also not likely, as the wall visible below it indicates that it’s not full length.

    I suppose, then, that this rectangular object is a mirror.

    From what I’ve seen, most depictions of a nude in room like this represent a woman in her own home or room. (Think of the works of John Sloan.). Thar would indicate a certain level of ease and comfort on her part, with the viewer being an unseen observer.

    Going back to the mirror, what do we see reflected in it? A group of rectangular objects on the wall – paintings, I should think – and the bed which she is standing next to.

    Is it likely that this is Annie’s own room? A “docunude” (as DaveL would call it)? Given the paintings on the wall, I think it more likely to be the artist’s own bedroom, which gives it a totally different dynamic than if she were in her own private space. As has been noted, she seems confined by the space, as if trapped, and the reddish coloring to her face could indicate embarassment at her being nude in such a situation.

    (As this is from Munch’s late period, could this just be a dirty old man’s fantasy??? – not that I have anything against that…LOL)

    Oslo is a nice place to visit, but besides the Munch Museum and other museums, if you do go, be sure to visit Frogener Park, which is filled with sculptures of people by the artist Gustav Vigeland – and all of them are nude! He didn’t intend it that way at first, but Vigeland then realized that statues of clothed people would soon become dated, so he decided to make them all nude, which made them timeless.

    The statues are of men and women, from children to old folks,

  8. Dave Rudin says:

    (continued)

    …and some of the sculptural groups, made of both bronze and stone, are amazing. If you do visit Oslo, be sure not to miss it.

    For now, enjoy Miami (but could you imagine a place like Frogner Park ever existing in an American city???).

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