Morning Munch

Eventually I’ll write about characteristic Edvard Munch, but I’m very struck by this (to my eyes) French-flavoured portrait, Morning (1884), in the Rastus Meyer Collection. We have a young woman, sat on the edge of a bed, mid dressing, gazing towards the window. The sitter is Thora Emilie Dalen (b. 1868) and she was painted by Munch when he was renting a room in Haugfoss. This was the painting that Munch was to exhibit in Paris and marks a breakthrough.


On the one hand, we have an attractive young girl, with all the connotations, sat on the edge of a bed, with fresh light pouring in through the window. The vanishing points of the floorboards and the bed point to the window, and points us to a small table with a floor length white cloth and glass bottles. The whiteness of the material is echoed in the bedding and her blouse, although the skirt is dark, of course. She has one stocking on — has she been interrupted by the light? Is she day dreaming? Has she remembered something. The line of her right arm echoes her legs, while the line of her hair and back echo the far edge of the bed.

And yet, alongside the virginity, innocence and cleanliness of the white, I sense something deeper. In the baby blue of the wall, the wooden boards become obvious, with strong vertical lines that to me suggest prison bars. It’s hard to see this painting without being aware of Munch’s later more obvious distaste of bourgeois life and the various dead and monster women he will depict. Is there not a sense that she is in the cell of contemporary life, not to mention the entrapped, limited life of women in the period? She has her back to it, so perhaps she isn’t aware of it, but perhaps a vision, in the corner of her eye, has given her pause.

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