At beginning of 1919, the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (see Madonna) who painted one of the most famous paintings of all time, 1893’s The Scream, became seriously ill with the Spanish Influenza that had already claimed the lives of millions across the world.
Munch painted hundreds of self-portraits throughout his career, most notable are Self-Portrait with Burning Cigarette from 1895 and 1903’s startling Self-Portrait in Hell (see below). Munch’s art which encompassed Symbolism and paved the way for Expressionism, brought a new and unprecedented focus on subjectivity and psychological states, naturally found raw material in the unflinching and dramatic presentation of the diseased and tormented self.
Self-Portrait, Spanish Influenza, though of a later period, is no exception in its neurotic intensity. The jarring colours are suggestive of sickness and trauma and Munch’s sallow mask-like face seems to be staring straight at death.
Munch would survive the Spanish Influenza, dying in 1944 at the age of 80. His paintings and prints retain an evocative urgency in their depiction of the universal states of anguish, illness, sexual anxiety and the dissolution of the body.