Nordic Summer Nights in this Haunting Munch Painting
This Edvard Munch painting, titled The Girls on the Bridge, takes us directly into those crepuscular Nordic summer nights, when the sun never quite sets but skims the horizon before lifting again for the next day.
I’ve only seen a handful of Munch’s paintings in real life. Of those, one aspect that always strikes me is how the surfaces are made up of such thin and loosely handled paint. You can feel the brisk movements the artist must have made with his brush.
The texture becomes like a river flow, weaving in great currents around the canvas — brooding and brimming like a swollen river about to break its banks.
You only need to look at the smeared form of the bridge in this painting, or the spooling depth of the black water into which the three girls gaze.
It’s such a mystifying thing, since the paint feels insubstantial at close quarters, but when you step back it breathes and pulsates, coagulating into objects and people rather than simply depicting them.
This translation of paint into ghostly forms is what gives Munch’s paintings their unusual glowing, almost humming effect. It also helps that he painted deeply ambiguous images that toy with a sense of reality. We always feel like we’re glimpsing into a psychological dimension, where the interplay between people and landscape is fluid, suggestive of altered states.
It was a quality that not everyone around him appreciated. When, in 1892, Munch had the chance to show his pictures at the Association of Berlin Artists, the public was shocked at the surreal melancholy of his imagery. The exhibition closed prematurely after just a week, a failure that Munch reflected on with humour: “I could not have a better form of publicity.”