Jealousy: Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch: Jealousy

Jealousy is one of eleven versions of the theme that Norwegian artist Edvard Munch painted. In this 1907 version, there are three figures – two suitors and the desired woman. In typical Expressionist style, Munch uses non-naturalistic colors in the faces to signal differing emotional states with the face of the man looking out at the viewer experiencing the ‘green-eyed monster’ of jealousy.

Jealousy is a theme to which Edvard Munch returned all throughout his painterly life. He completed at least eleven versions of Jealousy in a variety of styles and moods. The first, and possibly most memorable, is that of 1895, an Expressionist variant.

It shows the jealous man on the right with an expression that is ideally described as livid. Blood has left his complexion, and a bluish hue pervades his face. The face appears as if caught in a spasm, likely as a consequence of a clenching jaw.

As if his face were a source of light, the strands of hair on its margins appear fairer in color than the rest: there is a golden contour to his hairline and one mustache, and his pointy beard appears blood-red. The overall sharpness of the lines in his head is suggestive of unrest and negative emotions. And so are the hues that characterize it.

Contrast this with the roundedness of the merry world to his left, which might as well be a vision in his mind. It is an image of a man and a woman engaging in a clearly amorous interaction: they are standing close to each other, he is handing her a posy of red flowers; both of them are red in the face; she is reaching up to an equally red apple while her red robe is open to uncover her total, and symbolic, nakedness. The hue of sexual love infuses their meeting and creates an utter opposite to the deathly pallor of the jealous man’s face.

Compared to its variants, the Jealousy of 1895 has a distinctively rustic character: it could be set in a private garden or a country orchard. The jealous man could conceivably be a peasant, though his rival appears to be dressed in urban fashion and the woman’s flowing robe does not imply bucolic simplicity.

Yet we are decidedly not in a bourgeois scene as in the other paintings, and our jealous man appears arguably unkempt. The painting is surely one of the more colorful versions.

This first edition of Jealousy came at the time of Edvard Munch’s residence in Berlin, a period of rising self-awareness, exposure to the public through a personal exhibition, and tentative recognition of his work by the critics. It is at this stage that he paints The Scream (1893) and Melancholy (1891). Alongside Jealousy, they give artistic expression to his abiding existential grief.

This version of Edvard Munch’s Jealousy is in the Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway.

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