How it came about he cannot grasp – Yet even when she is gone across the sea he feels fine threads embedded in his heart – which bleeds – and pains him like an ever-open wound.
The Sick Child ...
Lithograph printed in red
Sheet size: 50,0 * 63,0 cm
Subject size: 42,0 * 56,0 cm
Woll: 72, A2, C, F
Printed in Paris by Clot
Cream China paper
Munch wrote about the origins of The Frieze of Life: “The frieze has been conceived as a series of decorative pictures that together are to give an image of life. Running through them winds the curving seashore, beyond which is the sea that is constantly in motion, and under the tree-tops life in all its diverse forms is lived, with all its joys and sorrows.”i
Munch found inspiration for his major work The Frieze of Life from his stay in Kristiania in the 1880s – moving in bohemian circles – until well into the 20th century. From 1893, when he had established himself in Berlin and moved in a new bohemian circle with the intellectual group of artists and writers who frequented the wine bar Zum schwarzen Ferkel, the frieze really started to take shape, and at the exhibition in December he displayed six pictures called Studies for a Series: Love. When, two years later, he exhibited at Ugo Barroccio’s gallery in Berlin, the series comprised 15 paintings, with Separation listed in the catalogue as the ninth of the series. The development continued, and in the increasing number of pictures Munch linked to this ‘poem’ about life, chapters were eventually to be in- cluded about fear and death. When Munch was invited by the well-known and respected painter Max Liebermann in 1902 to take part in the Berlin Secession, the series now numbered 22 pictures. Munch called them Cycle of Moments from Life, and subdivided them in four conceptual groups ‘Dawning Love’, ‘The Rise and Fall of Love’, ‘Fear of Life’ and ‘Death’.
The lithograph Separation I has then a parallel painting from 1893 (a later version from 1896). Our copy was printed in black on brownish paper, and executed by the eminent printer Auguste Clot in Paris in 1896. The picture has been done with lithographic ink for the summary, wavy lines and black sections, and chalk for the more cautious sections, while the fine threads that occur in certain places have been done by the artist scratching with a pin or scraping on the actual printing stone.
Since the mid-1880s, Munch had spent many summers in the coastal town of Åsgårdstrand. The landscape there, with its winding coastline, recurs in many of the mental tableaus linked to The Frieze of Life. In Separation I the love story between the man and the woman is coming to an end; she turns away from him and gazes out over the sea. Her head raised high and her back straight, she leaves the man, who gloomily turns away and seeks shelter under the dark tree-top. She goes towards the light, he towards the darkness.
With its powerful design and simple symbolism Separation I is one of Munch’s most impressive lithographs.ii For the artist himself, it was to become a favourite motif, one he treated throughout his life in words and pictures. In one of his many texts we read: “Deep-violet, the darkness sank down over the earth – I was sitting under a tree – the leaves of which had started to turn yellow, to wither – She had been sitting next to me – she had inclined her head over mine – her blood-red hair had filtered round me – it had twined itself round me like blood-red snakes – its finest threads were entwined in my heart – then she had got up – I don’t know why – slowly she moved away towards the sea – farther and farther away – then the strange thing happened – I felt as if there were invisible threads between us – I felt as if invisible threads of her hair were still twined around me – and so it continued when she disappeared over the sea – then I could still feel the pain where my heart was bleeding – because the threads could not be severed.”iii
Although they go their separate ways, he is still caught up in their relationship, symbolised by the woman’s long hair that still holds his heart in a tight grip. The woman’s hair like tentacles is a symbolism we find in many of the artist’s pictures that have to do with the relationship between the two sexes, including Jealousy, Vampire and Towards the Forest.
Out of the disturbing mood and melancholy of the separation «the flower of pain» grows beside the man’s leg. Both the woman’s long hair as tentacles and the flower of pain are constantly recurring formulae in Munch’s art in its symbolic phase. For the artist himself, the flower of pain became a favourite theme, and he depicts it in a large num- ber of sketches, paintings and graphic prints throughout his life. Among Munch’s writings, most of them edited be- cause he well knew that they would be read by others in later generations, the artist has given us an insight into his personal fate – he sacrificed himself for art. “What is art? Art grows out of joy and sorrow – but mostly out of sor- row. It grows out of human life.” And elsewhere he wrote: “I don’t believe in art that has not forced its way out be- cause of an individual’s urge to open his heart. All art, literature as well as music, must be produced with one’s own life-blood. Art is one’s life-blood.”