Edvard Munch - Self-Portrait After Spanish Influenza

Edvard Munch - Self-Portrait After Spanish Influenza Disasters Famous Historical Events Medicine Tragedies and Triumphs World War I Famous People Visual Arts

In this self-portrait, Munch sits in a wicker chair (like the one in which his sister, 15-year-old Sophie, died).  He faces outward, open-mouth, like the figure in his painting, The Scream.  Yet ... Munch is alive, when so many other people - during the same time frame - died from Spanish Flu.

Munch painted this work - Self-Portrait after Spanish Influenza - in 1919.  It is currently maintained in Oslo, at the National Gallery.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine (at the National Institutes of Health) has a website which discusses infectious diseases. Included in that website is an article about Munch’s self-portrait. Here is an excerpt:

Pestilence, which traumatized Munch’s early years in the form of tuberculosis, continued to rule his life and fuel his journey through the vagaries of the human condition. In Self-Portrait after the Spanish Flu ... the tormented painter appears judge and victim of this pandemic killer. The terse yet unsteady demeanor, the puffy discolored glare, the quivering lines of fever and chills, only highlight the despair and isolation of the “grippe” patient, the oppression, the weakness, the malaise, the lack of air, the stupor, the hopelessness.

Munch’s preoccupation with suffering in this self-portrait is fully understood by those who study the Spanish flu pandemic. Erupting during the final stages of World War I, this global disaster reinforced the era’s nihilism and apocalyptic visions of despair.

When children skipped rope, at the time, they sang this verse:

I had a little bird
Its name was Enza
I opened the window
And in-flew-enza

Highly contagious and unusually virulent, the deadly flu circled the globe, taking its toll among the youngest and healthiest. Medicine was then only beginning to understand infectious diseases and to take modest steps towards diagnostics and therapy.

Click on the image for a better view.

Media Credits

Image, described above, online courtesy WikiPaintings.




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"Edvard Munch - Self-Portrait After Spanish Influenza" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Jun 03, 2020.
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