Red Virginia Creeper Edvard Munch Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Initially appearing an idealised scene, with its central home appealingly large and disarmingly bright, enlivened further by being coated in the eponymous red creeper plant. Amid the grass lies a well-trodden path surrounded by white picket fences.

Yet Edvard Munch's idiosyncratic discomfort becomes apparent and strikes the eye and mind with a sense of discontent. The figure in the foreground, presented from above the neck only with huge and staring eyes, is wild-eyed and confused, as he departs the scene. His green visage contrasts with the vibrant reds and white elsewhere in the piece, as he does from the seemingly-happy setting which he appears to wish to flee.

Further details present themselves: the shrubbery in front of the house, light in colour and in its application to the canvas, clashes with the vivid red to create a sort of fiery growth, shortly to engorge the building. The house appears to have no door. Note the coffin-shaped windows on the ground floor and, leaning against the ground floor of the house, objects that may be gravestones. Even the red of eponymous virginia creeper which covers the house is not leafy but flat; solid, like a hunk of meat, enveloping even some of the upstairs windows. The natural and the violent meet in this piece, which - like much of Munch’s imagery - poses questions which individual appreciator’s interpretations are likely to provide different answers to.

Like many of Munch's works, this piece has a strangely foreboding quality, perhaps due to its uncomfortable overlapping of the living and the inanimate; the haunted figure frozen yet in escape, and the creeper itself seeming to take over the building's entire face. The use of colour, too, illustrates the same contrast potently: the house is engulfed by the creeper’s almost malevolent ruby red, so much so that it is possible to imagine it as been silently feeding off its occupants, contrasted with the palely-blanched and drawn face of the suffering man in the foreground.

Currently on display in the Met, New York, Red Virginia Creeper was painted as an oil on canvas between 1898 and 1900. During the same period Munch produced the piece Tragedy, which includes an eerily similar - and similarly eerie - wide-eyed gentleman; The Vampire (Love and Pain), also completed in 1900, is reminiscent only in its unsettling and disturbing choices of imagery. However there were signs of his style advancing towards the more pastoral and elegiac Train Smoke, Under the Stars and the Island from the turn of the 20th century onwards.