Edvard Munch (Norwegian, Løten, Hedmark 1863 - 1944 Oslo)
The Sin (Nude)
Schliefer 142, 1902
Signed in graphite lower right: E. Munch
Sheet: 31 x 20 5/8 in. (78.7 x 52.3 cm)
Plate: 27 3/8 x 15 7/8 in. (69.6 x 40.2 cm)
R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund, 1957
Armless and immobilized, glazed-over and sexually sated, the wild-haired nude in Munch's The Sin is a concentrated example of the femme fatale frequently depicted in Symbolist art of fin de siècle Europe.1 Printed in three colors from two sides of the same stone, the work is also one of Munch's most technically innovative color lithographs.
During the 1890s, Munch spent much time in Berlin in close association with August Strindberg and his group, Zum Schwarzen Ferkel (The Black Pig). In this avant-garde milieu of male writers and artists, new roles and freedoms for women were generally regarded with fear, and women who ventured outside the traditional roles of wife and mother were depicted in word and image as dangerous and depraved. Although throughout his life Munch created many portraits of strong and individualized women, his work from this period portrays a generalized Woman, tantalizing, frightening, even annihilating. These charged images of powerful women and vulnerable men are among the artist's most troubling and most famous.2
In The Sin, Woman is presented as a lushly carnal, even depraved, object of temptation, and without the traumatized male victim the artist often included in his depictions of the femme fatale.3 The title and perhaps the theme of the work may come from Franz von Stuck's The Sin(1899; Neue Pinakothek, Munich, inv. 7925),4 in which the gaze of the woman is more sexually provocative, and the symbolism, a large snake wrapped around the figure, is far more overt.
The model for The Sin was formerly thought to be the Norwegian artist Tulla Larsen (1869-1942), with whom Munch was romantically involved from 1898 to 1902.5 Obsessed with Larsen after the end of the affair, he made several demonizing images of her between 1902 and 1908.6 Arne Eggum (1989) has convincingly identified the figure in The Sin instead as the model who posed for Munch every morning during the winter and spring of 1902 in Berlin.7 Even accepting this attribution, The Sin is by no means a portrait, and Munch's relationship with Larsen helped form the misogynistic attitudes towards women evident in this print.
To achieve the colored linear image of The Sin, Munch invented a way to print multiple colors from the same original drawing.8 The first state, drawn on the stone with a lithographic crayon and a few strokes of tusche in the ends of the locks of hair, was printed monochromatically; impressions exist in yellow, brown, and black ink, and possibly other colors. To print the image in multiple colors, Munch separated parts of the first-state drawing, or keystone, through the process of transfer lithography. He blocked out areas of the original keystone and took a transfer impression of the rest of the image. He then transferred this impression to the verso of the same stone (which is preserved in the Munch Museet, Oslo). Thus each side of the stone held parts of the same drawing.
The second and later states of the print were printed from the two sides of the stone: the beige skin tones from the keystone side, the red hair and touched-in green eyes from the other. Before printing the second state, however, Munch reworked both sides with tusche. He also scratched away some of the lines in the hair with a needle to allow the beige tones to shine through the red locks.
The Oberlin impression represents the second state. The third state is identical to the second, but for the addition of the initials E M between the locks of hair at lower right. In the fourth state the letters are gone and the keystone has been further worked in tusche in the belly area. All states were printed by Lassally of Berlin.
J. S. Wilker
Work (C) 1998 The Munch Museum/The Munch-Ellingsen Group/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Munch was born on 12 December 1863 in Loten, Hedmark, a working-class suburb of Kristiania (now Oslo). his father was a military doctor, and the family was aristocratic but poor; sickness and death (his mother died in 1868 and his sister in 1877), and his father's psychological problems, determined the gloomy character of Munch's childhood. Munch studied sculpture under Julius Midelthun (1847-1908) in 1881, and painting under Christian Krohg (1852-1925) in 1882 and Frits Thaulow (dates) in 1883. From 1884 to 1889 he belonged to the Kristiania Bohème, a group of artists, writers, and students opposed to bourgeois lifestyle and morality. his work of this period, painted in a style fusing French Impressionism and Norwegian Naturalism, presents scenes from his troubled childhood and erotic motifs, as well as more acceptable and marketable landscapes and portraits. A solo exhibition in Kristiania in 1889 led to a grant for study in Paris with Léon Bonnat (1833-1922) in 1889. Once there, upon learning of the death of his father, Munch's own psychological crisis led to a rejection of his earlier impressionistic naturalism for Symbolism, and to emotional works with themes such as despair and death, sexuality and love. From 1892 to 1908, he spent much time in Berlin as a member of the avant-garde circle around August Strindberg (see Main Text), while also traveling widely and suffering through an intense romantic affair with Tulla Larsen. his great cycle of paintings, the Frieze of Life, was exhibited at the Berlin Secession in 1902.
From 1908, when he suffered a mental breakdown, Munch lived mostly in Norway, continuing to paint new works (for example, the wall paintings for the University Aula in Kristiania), and to repaint and rework his earlier paintings until his death in Oslo on 23 January 1944. From 1894, Munch turned to printmaking to develop and disseminate his images. The images of the Frieze of Life, for example, were re-created in The Mirror, a print series exhibited in Oslo in 1897 but never completed.9 Munch's huge and highly innovative printed oeuvre was enormously influential on German Expressionist artists, such as Kirchner, Heckel, and Kollwitz. In 1912, he was recognized as one of the precursors of German Expressionism, along with Cézanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh, at the Sonderbund exhibition in Cologne. Munch made more prints in lithography than in any other medium. The subtlety of tone provided by the lithographic process made it his preferred black-and-white medium. Although he made relatively few color lithographs, they are among his most innovative. At his death he left over 15,000 prints, in addition to 1,000 paintings, 5,000 watercolors and drawings, and a few sculptures, to the municipality of Oslo.
Schiefler, Gustav. Verzeichnis des graphischen Werks Edvard Munchs, bis 1906. Berlin, 1907. Reprint, Oslo, 1974.
Schiefler, Gustav. Edvard Munch. Das graphische Werk 1906-1926. Berlin, 1927. Reprint, Oslo, 1974.
Prelinger, Elizabeth. Edvard Munch, Master Printmaker: An Examination of the Artist's Works and Techniques Based on the Philip and Lynn Straus Collection. New York and London, 1983.
Heller, Reinhold. Munch: his Life and Work. Chicago, 1984.
Prelinger, Elizabeth, and Michael Parke-Taylor. The Symbolist Prints of Edvard Munch: The Vivian and David Campbell Collection. Exh. cat., Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 1997.
Berman, Patricia G., and Jane Van Nimmen. Munch and Women: Image and Myth. Exh. cat., Art Services International, Alexandria, Va., 1997.
With Richard Zinzer, New York, from whom purchased in 1957
New Haven, Yale University Art Gallery, 1963-64. Color in Prints. 11 October - 6 January. Cat. no. 72.
Schiefler, Gustav. Verzeichnis des graphischen Werks Edvard Munchs bis 1906. Oslo, 1907, reprinted Berlin, ca. 1974, no. 142 ii/iii (dated 1901).
General Literature (mentioning this print but not this impression)
Prelinger, Elizabeth. Edvard Munch, Master Printmaker: An Examination of the Artist's Works and Techniques Based on the Philip and Lynn Straus Collection. New York and London, 1983, pp. 77-80.
Prelinger, Elizabeth, and Michael Parke-Taylor. The Symbolist Prints of Edvard Munch: The Vivian and David Campbell Collection. Exh. cat., Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 1996, pp. 188-92, cat. no. 45.
Berman, Patricia G., and Jane Van Nimmen. Munch and Women: Image and Myth. Exh. cat., Art Services International, Alexandria, Va., 1997, pp. 23, 204-5, cat. no. 63.
Technical DataThis lithograph was printed on Japan paper in three colors, a rich rust red for the hair, nipples, facial features, and border; a dull yellow for the skin tones; and a bright green for the eyes (see Main Text on the print's technique). There is overall discoloration, light staining, and slight wrinkling of the sheet. There are damages along the top edge from prior hinging, as well as minor losses, tears, and adhesive stains. There are no stamps or collector's marks on the sheet.
1. The cultural, intellectual, and social underpinnings of the femme fatale are covered in depth in Bram Dijkstra, Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siècle Culture (New York and Oxford, 1986). Dijkstra includes Munch's The Sin in his discussion of the "Extinguished Eyes" (whose vacancy implies an atrophied brain) seen in so many images of women during this period; see chapter 6.
2. For a critical review of this context, see Patricia G. Berman, "Edvard Munch: Women, Woman, and the Genesis of an Artist's Myth," in Munch and Women: Image and Myth(exh. cat., Art Services International, Alexandria, Va., 1997), pp. 10-40.
3. See, for example, Vampire (painting of 1893, lithograph of 1895), in which the seducer's red hair wraps around the man's head in snakelike coils. Other such images are mentioned in Elizabeth Prelinger and Michael Parke-Taylor, The Symbolist Prints of Edvard Munch: The Vivian and David Campbell Collection (exh. cat., Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 1996), p. 188.
4. Reproduced in Elizabeth Prelinger and Michael Parke-Taylor, The Symbolist Prints of Edvard Munch: The Vivian and David Campbell Collection (exh. cat., Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 1996), p. 190, fig. S1, under cat. no. 45. Stuck's Sin was a well-known image, with an etching (of 1889) and several painted versions produced between 1891 and 1893. The most famous version was exhibited in the Munich Secession Salon of 1893.
5. For example, see Frederick Deknatel, Edvard Munch (exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1950), p. 49.
6. When Munch attempted to break off the affair, Larsen threatened suicide with a pistol, and accidentally shot Munch in the hand; see Patricia G. Berman and Jane Van Nimmen, Munch and Women: Image and Myth (exh. cat., Art Services International, Alexandria, Va., 1997), p. 164, under cat. no. 43 (Portrait of Tulla Larsen). Munch depicted Larsen in the individual lithograph Death of Marat (1906), and in the lithographic series Alpha and Omega (1908-09).
7. In November 1901, Munch rented a studio in Berlin. While waiting for an exhibition date at Cassirer's, he bought a small Kodak camera and started taking photographs of himself and his studio. Among these photographs (now in the Munch-museet, Oslo) are two of a naked model with long hair and black stockings. The photographs relate to the painting Naked Woman (1902, Munch-museet, Oslo, inv. MM M 496), and to The Sin. They also serve to date the lithograph to 1902 (Schiefler dated it to 1901.)
8. See Elizabeth Prelinger's discussion of the technique of this print in Edvard Munch, Master Printmaker: An Examination of the Artist's Works and Techniques Based on the Philip and Lynn Straus Collection(New York and London, 1983), pp. 77-80; and in Elizabeth Prelinger and Michael Parke-Taylor, The Symbolist Prints of Edvard Munch: The Vivian and David Campbell Collection(exh. cat., Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 1996), pp. 188-92, cat. no. 45, with color illustrations of all states.
9. For a reconstruction of this series, which relates closely to The Sin, see Arne Eggum et al., Edvard Munch: Symbols & Images (exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1978), pp. 213-27.