Munch was born in 1863 in the cold, damp, darkness of a Norwegian winter. Death was no stranger to his early life. His mother died when he was 5, a sister when he was 14. Inasmuch as his father was a doctor, working out of his home, young Munch grew up amongst death and dying. At the age of 22, he studied in Paris and was influenced for a time by the Impressionist movement. His palette lightened, his work became almost cheery. Returning home however, he did some of his most searing, emotionally troubled works such as the ghostly Evening on Karl Johan, his somber Death in the Sick Chamber, and his wildly disturbing The Scream of 1893. His most famous painting, this work unfortunately has been adopted by the angst-ridden Generation-X and printed on thousands of T-shirts. It now rivals the Mona Lisa (with or without mustache) in the kitsch department.
Early on, critics hated his work. However, during the early years of this century his paintings became consumed by dark, tortured manifestations of love. Critical acceptance of his work eventually came, though he was never comfortable with either it or the element of fame it brought him. Even in his depictions of love, death seems ever-present. In 1894, convinced he was going to die young, Munch used a mirror in creating a ghostly self-portrait. The skull-like face emerges from a blackened background and has many of the same undulating suhapes seen in The Scream, but its most disturbing aspect is an arm, resting across the base of the canvas, depicted in a skeletal form. He dated the work as if it would be his last. Ironically, he lived another 50 years, dying peacefully in his sleep amidst the devastating aftermath of WW II. He was 81.