5 things you probably didn't know about Edvard Munch

5 things you probably didn't know about Edvard Munch

Behind the scenes with the Oslo region's famous painter

Edvard Munch, the man who painted the Scream, is regarded as one of the greatest artists in world history. He was also a dramatic fellow, and his life was filled with fascinating and crazy stories. Below are five great Munch tales that are worth adding to your trivia bank.

1. He shot his finger off in the heat of passion

When he was in his mid-30s, Munch was in a turbulent relationship with a woman named Tulla Larsen. One day, after they had an argument in Åsgårdstrand, Munch refused to buy food and spent the whole day drinking cognac. At some point he started fiddling with a revolver, and it went off.

The bullet flew right through a finger on his left hand, which had to be amputated. Munch turned down anesthesia: He knew he would want to paint the operation afterwards, and needed to stay awake and see what happened. 


 Edvard Munch: På operasjonsbordet (1902-03)
Edvard Munch: På operasjonsbordet (1902-03)
Photo: Munchmuseet


2. He was a selfie pioneer

Edvard Munch famously remarked that photographs "will never compete with the brush and the palette, until such time as photographs can be taken in Heaven or Hell."

He did, however, take a keen interest in photography, and experimented eagerly with this new medium.  Being an avid self-portaiter, Munch would often turn the camera on himself and create what may very well be the first selfies in art history – both with and without clothes.

Edvard Munch selfie
Edvard Munch selfie
Photo: The Munch Museum

3. He predicted the invention of the mobile phone in 1910

Being an initiator of expressionism in art, Edvard Munch’s position as an innovator is well-established. But his visionary talents seemingly extended beyond his artistic practice.

In a letter from 1910, as part of an apology to a friend for not replying sooner, he wrote:

"If I had been in possession of the not yet invented little remote telephonic device that one keeps in one’s pocket, you would have received my message a long time ago"

4. He once offered to swap a version of The Sick Child for 100 steaks

The Oslo institution Grand Café was a popular hangout among Oslo's artists, thinkers and dilettantes in the late 19th century. The young Edvard Munch, quite the party animal, was among the regulars.

Munch had trouble paying his bills at Grand from time to time, and he once offered a waiter at Grand a version of his famous motif The sick child in exchange for 100 steaks. The waiter said no. Purportedly, a more foresighted colleague later accepted a Munch painting as payment for a round of Chateaubriands, beer and snifters.


5. His style of painting changed after he checked himself into a sanatarium

In the fall of 1908, Edvard Munch checked himself into a sanitarium in Copenhagen after hearing voices. By the spring of 1909, he found himself much improved and eager to get back to his work. He left Denmark and arrived in the fjord-side town of Kragerø.

Munch rented a house with a view of the Oslo fjord, and entered into one of the most joyful and productive periods of his artistic life.

Edvard Munch: The Sun, 1911. UiO.
Edvard Munch: The Sun, 1911. UiO.
Photo: . Photo: The Munch Museum/Svein Andersen/Sidsel de Jong.

The nature of Kragerø inspired Munch’s vital mural The Sun – a rising sun, the purest symbol of the force of life, rendered with bold, vibrant brush strokes. The contrast to psychologically oriented works like Scream is striking. 

True stories! And they all happened in the Oslo region

The Oslo region was the home turf of Edvard Munch. He was born and raised here, and he spent time in several places in the region throughout his life. It was also in the Oslo region that he painted some of his best-known works, inspired by what he saw around him.

If we consider Edvard Munch the lover, the visionary, the influencer, the party boy and the nature enthusiast, it becomes clear that following in the footseps of Munch through the Oslo region amounts to a lot more than visiting Munch-related museums and sites. 

It can also mean being inspired by a sunrise over the Oslo fjord, getting new ideas on a hike, having a rendezvous in the moonlight, partying through the night – and, of course, taking nude selfies outdoors.

Next, it’ll be your turn to say: "It all happened in the Oslo region".

Munch at-a-glance

Edvard Munch (1863–1944)

  • world-renowned painter and printmaker

  • a pioneer of expressionism and representative of late 19th century symbolism

  • dwelled at several places in the Oslo region throughout his life:

Find Munch's art

In the Oslo region you'll find the two museums that house the most comprehensive collections of Munch’s art in the world: the Munch Museum and the National Museum (closed until 2020).  You can also enjoy works by Munch at Lillehammer Art Museum and the University Aula in Oslo (open during performances only).

More peculiar spots to view Munch’s art include Restaurant Munch at Refsnes Gods in Moss, decorated with eight Munch originals, and the Munch Center at Munch’s birth place Løten, where some of his early drawings are on display.