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The girls on the bridge

Painting, 1903, 86×75 cm
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Description of the artwork «The girls on the bridge»

Which of Munch’s paintings do you recall first? Sure enough, it would be The Scream and then – The Girls on the Bridge. In 30 years, Edward Munch created 12 versions of this subject – quite enough to divide these paintings between the main museums and auctions and to support the media glory of The Girls... with either curatorial projects, or record sales.

One of the versions of this picture was sold at Sotheby’s auction for $54 million and became the second most expensive work by the Norwegian, after "The Scream", of course.

But unlike The Scream, The Girls on the Bridge was received enthusiastically by both: viewers and critics contemporary to the artist. It was called the most perfect, mature and harmonious among Munch’s pictures. The main mood of the artist’s paintings, that white-hot anxiety, bordering on desperation, suddenly subsided in The Girls on the Bridge and cooled down to melancholy. On the scale of happiness, calm loneliness, thoughtfulness and sadness were perhaps the highest mark among those, available to Munch. He was just not capable of feeling better. Many years later, the artist described 1902, the year when The Girls on the Bridge was created, as follows: "...those years from 1902 until the Copenhagen clinic [in 1908] were the unhappiest, the most difficult and yet the most fateful and productive years of my life."

A few years before, he bought a house in Åsgårdstrand by the west coast of the Oslofjord, but spent there only a few summer months. The rest of the time the artist was preparing exhibitions and traveling around Europe, namely to Berlin, Paris, Florence, and Nice. And a few months before, he broke up with Tulla Larsen, the woman who stayed with Munch the longest. It was an exhausting passion: several happy months, and then years of quarrels, threats, escapes, partings, suicide attempts, long letters with reproaches and confessions. During that dangerous love affair, Munch began his obsessive series of Woman in Three Stages, persistently arranging sexuality, love and death in one closed cycle.

The artist’s incredible productivity immediately after the break with Tulla was not accidental. He was sincerely convinced that a relationship with a woman suppressed the creativity, and that the vampire woman drew vital force and creative energy from a man. And then he was finally free. Critics say that at that time in Munch’s life started a period of "landscapes-liberations, landscapes inhabited by innocent people, and landscapes, in which there was hope that not everything loved by man was doomed to catastrophe."

The Girls on the Bridge is an example of such artworks. The most fragile time is the summer white night, and the borderline place is the bridge connecting two segments of the land above the dense water column of the fjord. And for the first time in a long time, Munch did not see the ghost of inevitable death over the three girls, high school students, whom he noticed during his walk and asked to pose for him. The calm nighttime, Norwegian sun closes unreliable skies for a while - and the threat recedes. The artist would return to the lulling silence of this moment 12 times in his picturesque canvases, and dozens of times would repeat it in his lithographs.

Author: Anna Sidelnikova
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About the artwork

Alternative titles: White night. Asgardstrand

Art form: Painting

Subject and objects: Landscape

Style of art: Art Nouveau

Technique: Oil

Materials: Canvas

Date of creation: 1903

Size: 86×75 cm

Artwork in selections: 25 selections

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