Painted in 1918.
Thomas Olsen (acquired by 1951)
Thence by descent to the present owner
Oslo, Kunstnernes Hus, Edvard Munch. Utsetilling malerier, akvareller, tegninger, grafikk, 1951, no. 92
Sâo Paulo, 11ème Biennale du Musée d’Art Moderne de Sâo Paulo, 1953-54, no. 14
Oslo, Kunstnerforbundet, Munchbilder i privat eie (Munchbilder in Privatbesitz), 1958, no. 32
Kiel, Kunsthalle zu Kiel, Edvard Munch. Gemälde und Zeichnungen aus einer norwegischen Privatsammlung, 1979, no. 22, illustrated in the catalogue
Munch was, alongside Van Gogh, perhaps the most significant self-portraitist of the modern period, and his self-depictions mirror the artist's physical, mental and emotional state throughout his life. The remarkable group of paintings and drawings that Munch executed at the time of the devastating epidemic of Spanish flu do not only illustrate the artist's own struggle and eventual recovery, but are also an important document of this unique phenomenon in the history of twentieth century.
‘If Munch did not experience the actual horrors of war, he did fall victim to the pandemic that caused some one hundred million deaths throughout the world at war’s end, the so-called Spanish flu. As a middle-aged man, Munch was not among the most vulnerable segments of the population and survived his bout. He painted two self-portraits that document his illness, Self-Portrait, Spanish Influenza [fig. 1] and Self-Portrait after the Spanish Influenza [fig. 2]’ (Elizabeth Prelinger, After the Scream. The Late Paintings of Edvard Munch, New Haven & London, 2002, p. 68).
Besides these two works that belong to museums in Oslo, Munch also executed the present painting as well as a series of drawings on the experience of Spanish flu. All painted in the artist’s house on the Ekely estate outside Kristiania, their setting plays an important role, echoing Munch’s physical state and documenting his recovery. In Self-Portrait, Spanish Influenza (fig. 1) he is depicted in his bathrobe, seated in the wicker chair, with the messy bed behind him; his sketchily delineated face with his mouth open evokes what he described as the ‘odour of death’, while the undulating bright red and yellow brushstrokes reflect the fever that accompanied the flu. In Self-Portrait after the Spanish Influenza (fig. 2), the artist appears almost completely recovered – he is depicted wearing a suit, and his facial features are painted with clarity.
Fig. 1, Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait, Spanish Influenza, 1919, oil on canvas, Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo
Fig. 2, Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait after the Spanish Influenza, 1919-20, oil on canvas, Munch-museet, Oslo
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