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The Vampire
  • Artist Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863 - 1944)
  • TitleThe Vampire
  • Dating 1893
  • Technique/MaterialOil on canvas
  • Dimensions80,5 x 100,5 cm
  • AcquisitionPurchased with funds from I Lignell, H Wijk & C M Pineus, 1918
  • CategoryOil painting
  • Inventory NumberGKM 0640
  • Display StatusOn display in Nordic Art 1880-1910 II (Room 22)
Description
Signatures etc.
Bibliography
A woman embraces a man who is resting his bowed head against her body. She kisses his neck, while her loose red hair falls over the two, reminiscent of rivulets of blood. The man is wearing dark clothes and his features are only hinted at. The light falls on the woman’s right arm and hand and her partially hidden face, with its pointed nose and the narrow, angled eyes. The pair form a single pyramid-shaped body that casts a blue shadow on the reddish-brown wall. The pictorial space is compact; the forms simplified. The artist’s full attention is on the two characters’ complicated encounter: the man seeks solace in the woman, the woman lovingly kisses his neck while assuming a frightening guise. The image depicts the relationship between man and woman as both symbiotic and parasitic.
That the complex relationship between the sexes was the subject of the work is clear from the title Munch gave the painting when it was shown in Berlin, in a rented gallery at Unter den Linden 19 in December 1893: Love and Pain. In »My Madonna« Munch described the episode the painting depicts: »He laid his head against her breast—he could hear the beating of her heart—felt the blood pulsing in her veins—and he felt two burning lips against his neck—it sent a shiver through his body—a freezing lust so that he pressed her to him in a convulsion of desire«.
Munch’s preoccupation with the war of the sexes stemmed from his personal experience, but it was also a major theme in the art and culture of the day. While he was in Berlin, Munch moved in the city’s artistic and intellectual bohemian circles and was inspired by the strong characters he met. The emancipation of women and relations between the sexes were the focus of the public debate on topical social ideas. The Symbolists often showed women as demonic figures. Ambivalence about women, whether as mothers and madonnas or as demonic seductresses, was also a constant element in Munch’s visual world in the 1890s.
Women’s liberation meant they entered the male domain, threatening traditional gender roles; something that like the emancipation of female sexuality was perceived by many men as frightening. Some people were horrified by feminized men and masculinized women, and feared that humanity’s survival was at stake. Munch was influenced by the opinions of Friedrich Nietzsche and August Strindberg on the subject. His fear of syphilis seems also to have fuelled his contradictory images of women. The fact that he depicted women as exalted, desired, and menacing by turns was thus typical of the day, although he gives the theme both a more personal touch and universal meaning.
The painting was given its title, The Vampire, not by the artist, but by a friend of Munch’s, the Polish writer and anarchist Stanisław Przybyszewski, in a monograph published in 1894. Przybyszewski described how the man apathetically »rolls on and on into the abyss« while the woman bites him »with a thousand serpent’s tongues, a thousand poisoned fangs«. Apparently Munch was not against this interpretation, as he subsequently showed the painting with Przybyszewski’s title.
The motif had its origins in a drawing from 1890, and Munch went on to produce several versions using different techniques. The picture in the Gothenburg Museum of Art, which was executed in Berlin, was the first painted version. When he later put together an exhibition of the Frieze of Life in 1918, he gave it a new title: Woman Kissing a Man on the Neck. Maybe he wanted to distance himself from turn-of-the-century views on gender, using a more prosaic, descriptive title to leave it free to the viewer to interpret the image.

Kristoffer Arvidsson from The Collection Gothenburg Museum of Art, Gothenburg 2014