Munch and Kirchner: Expressions of Anxiety

A woodcut of two figures next to each other in a green setting with abstract white details. One in a white dress with orange hair stands and looks toward a blue form that occupies the upper right and top of the print. The other is seated facing the standing figure's left side and is dressed entirely in black, with black hair or a veil covering their head.

Edvard Munch, Two Women on the Shore (To kvinner ved stranden), 1898, printed after 1917. Woodcut printed in black, blue, green, and yellow. Collection of Nelson Blitz, Jr., and Catherine Woodard

Exhibition Opening Lecture

Edvard Munch (1863–1944) and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880–1938) used printmaking—especially lithography and woodcut—in groundbreaking ways. Exploiting the visual and emotional power of color and abstraction, the artists portrayed what they perceived to be a fragmented, harrowing reality—not only for themselves but also for society more broadly. In this lecture, Jay A. Clarke, the Rothman Family Curator of Prints and Drawings, Art Institute of Chicago, explores the imagery Munch and Kirchner chose—including depictions of natural beauty, isolation, murder, and lust—as paths to individual and collective expression. An investigation of the artists’ biographies is only one method of approach to their production, while examining the material and technical inventions behind their work is another. By taking into account the joint impact of their imagery, psychology, and techniques, we can gain a fuller understanding of Munch and Kirchner’s contributions. Offered in conjunction with the exhibition Munch and Kirchner: Anxiety and Expression. Generously sponsored by the Martin A. Ryerson Lectureship Fund.