Self-portrait Between Clock and Bed, 1940-42

Edvard Munch, Self-portrait Between Clock and Bed, 1940-42 © Munch-museet/Munch-Ellingsen Gruppen/BUS 2005

Confronting death

From 1940 and onwards, all Munch’s self-portraits are about coming to terms with the idea of his own death. In Munch’s fear we are faced with our own anxieties. In Self-portrait at the Window (circa 1940) he stands to attention by the window, ready to defy the cold outside. His head exudes a stubborn energy, in contrast to the chilly nuances that dominate the landscape. As yet, the artist has enough willpower to withstand death that is creeping up on him.

In Self-portrait (1940-42), however, Munch is beginning to lose his vigour. His mouth is slack and his hair matted. Dying is characterised in this painting as the anxiety of losing control over one’s body. A shadow turns towards the light, while the ageing artist is still in a vague gloom.

In Self-portrait Between Clock and Bed (1940-42) the artist is on the brink of death. His time is up. The clock has no hands and the bed reminds us of the place where most people are born and die. His life, so full of work, now lies behind him. His senses barely register the outside world any more.

On 23 January, 1944, Munch’s life came to an end. The following day, the German painter Max Beckmann (1884-1950) wrote: “Munch has died- When will it be my turn? He held out for a pretty long time.”

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