The Painter Munch

An excerpt from the novel Der Maler Munch


By Tanja Langer

Edvard Munch, Self Portrait, 1907. Gelatin silver print, 9 x 9.4 cm. Munch Museum/Munch-Elingsen Group/BONO 2011.

The artist Edvard Munch, born in 1863 in Løten, Norway, painted from life. Death, anxiety, love, and jealousy kept him busy until he died at the age of eighty. He was a restless person and travelled often, in the beginning only with a suitcase full of boots and paintbrushes, later with trunks, in which he took with him his most important works. He often worked in Germany, creating an enormous oeuvre, which is now distributed around the world. 

The novelist Tanja Langer discovered her passion for his work during a visit to the Rasmus Meyer Collection in Bergen, Norway in 2001. After many years of studying his life and art, she wrote a biographical novel, Der Maler Munch, published in Germany in 2013. In this newly translated excerpt, drawn from the opening chapter of the book, the year is 1907 and Munch has relocated to a Baltic seaside resort town in Germany to paint. His thoughts turn to Tulla Larsen, a woman with whom he fell in love in 1898, and who has recently left him. 

In Warnemünde stands a tree.  A pear tree, a hundred years old and gnarled, its crown of leaves forms a roof in summer. There in the narrow courtyard Nielsen sweeps. Munch paints. He sounds out the depth of the space. In the picture, the yard grows deeper than in reality. It is a friendly depth. 

Recently he has been using the perspective of a wide-angle lens. In a magazine he has seen pictures taken with such cameras and was surprised by the possibilities. He drags objects and faces into the foreground and opens up space behind them. They obtain a peculiar density and, not seldom, by their distortion, appear threatening. The bottle on the table in the foreground of the green room freezes into an icy pillar, the couple cannot take their eyes off it, as if the bottle were the third person in a love story, or as if it contained the condensed space they cannot overcome in their togetherness, which they hate, and in which, at the same time, they seek protection.  As they endure their hatred.  What hope drives them on? 

Munch takes refuge outside. In all he himself is not. 


Read the rest of this
feature in the print issue


Issue 1
Publication Date: May 17


Tanja Langer is a well-known German writer and the author of several novels and stories, mostly recently Der Maler Munch (2013). Born in 1962, she has worked as a theater director in Berlin and frequently collaborates with artists and composers. Her opera Kleist was performed in 2008, and her latest opera, Ovartaci, about a Danish artist in a psychiatric institution, was produced in 2016. Langer’s writing has been translated into French, Swedish, Italian, and Lithuanian.

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