- Museum number
- Object: Self-portrait with skeleton arm
Head and collar only, against a black background, with a skeleton arm along the bottom. 1895
Lithograph printed on off-white woven paper.
- Production date
Height: 450 millimetres
Width: 320 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Text from Frances Carey, 'Modern Scandinavian Prints', BM 1997, cat.50
From the outset Munch achieved a freedom of expression through black and white lithography which was to make it his preferred graphic medium for the rest of his career. Gerd Woll identifies twelve subjects as having been executed in Berlin, prior to his move to Paris from February 1896 to April 1897 where he had access to the facilities of Auguste Clot's workshop and the added advantage of a sophisticated interest among artistic circles in original lithography. Berlin could not offer the same stimulus, but the lithographs he made there showed considerable daring and mastery in his use of the medium, working directly on the stone, although later he practised transfer lithography as well. The subjects included 'Vampire I', 'The scream', 'Madonna' and this haunting and subversive form of self-portraiture; Munch's insertion of his name and the date into the main composition has been compared with Vallotton's similar positioning of his titles within his woodcuts and lithographs. The skeleton arm introduces a more sinister dimension which had previously appeared in an unfinished portrait of Stanislaw Przybyszewski of about 1894 (see 'The Frieze of Life', cat. 76, p. 120), to be compared as well with the foetus and spermatozoa framing Munch's 'Madonna' of 1895.
'Self-portrait with skeleton arm' is now known in four states, of which the version here is the second (according to Gerd Woll there is only one impression of the recently identified first state), it was reprinted in 1913 by Lassally, with the upper and lower borders containing the artist's name, date and the skeleton arm painted over, then probably transferred to a new stone before being printed again in Norway about 1916.
The exact number printed is not known, but Gerd Woll's draft entry notes that other examples in Bremen and in the Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo are numbered "33" and "41".
Text from Frances Carey and Antony Griffiths, 'The Print in Germany 1880-1933', BM 1984, no. 70:
This is one of only two portraits (and nine prints) made in lithography before Munch's move to Paris in early March 1896. The other one (known in two versions) is of Harry Graf Kessler, who left in his diary of April 1895 a remarkable account of his sitting for it, a sitting which was disturbed by the irruption of a shop-keeper who seized the easel on which the stone had been placed, for non-payment of a debt of 25 Marks (see Reinhold Heller in the Washington catalogue, p. 102). The print shows a remarkable mastery of the technical possibilities of lithography: the basic design is drawn in lithographic chalk, over which a thick ink wash has been brushed to create a solid black through which occasional white lines have been scratched into the stone. Such solid black areas are almost unprecedented in earlier lithography, but are common in woodcuts of the period by Vallotton and others influenced by him.
As with nearly all Munch's portrait etchings and lithographs, there is no painted version corresponding with this image. The extraordinary skeleton arm, which balances the artist's name and the date 1895 at the top of the print, has occasioned much discussion. It is clearly a 'memento mori', and the whole picture takes the form of a sepulchral tablet. For commentary on this print and Munch's interest and inspiration from the old masters see Giulia Bartrum, (ed), 'Edvard Munch: love and angst', London, 2019, pp.68, 71 no. 25 and p.198.
Additional lit: Patricia G. Berman, 'On and In Self-Portrait (1895)', in Kunst og Kultur, no.1-2, 2017, pp.75-95
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1984/5 Sep-Jan., BM, 'The Print in Germany 1880-1933', cat.70
1986 Mar-Jan, Exeter, Royal Albert Mem. Museum, Stephane Mallarme
1990 April-Aug, BM, Treasures of P&D (no cat.)
1997 Jan-April, BM, 'Modern Scandinavian Prints', cat.51
1999/2000 Nov-Jan, Cardiff, Centre for Visual Arts, Unconvention
2009 Canada Tour, BM Treasures
2019 11 Apr - 21 Jul, London, BM, G35, Edvard Munch: love and angst
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number