Thursday, April 19, 2012

I suppose it's rather odd to say of this grim Edvard Munch image that it evokes warm feelings of nostalgia.

This is a scan of a postcard I received today from my daughter, who bought it at the Museum of Modern Art. She wrote a note on the back, recalling how we had seen it a Munch show at the Columbia Museum of Art back in the mid-1990s. Yes -- she would have been around 10 or so. So many of our memories of her growing up involve those Saturdays at the museum or the Nickelodeon.

I'm just drawing on old information here, but as I recall the Munch show was largely devoted to paintings and etchings of prostitutes, cheap encounters, women in general, and they evoked both sex and death. This one, ironically titled "Madonna," is a perfect example: a beguiling nude and, at lower left, a wide-eyed emaciated fetus. Also, look around the border, where you see all these little racing spermatozoons. In short: a pleasurable encounter and an unfortunate result. I doubt he was being moralistic so much as he was just being somehow generally despairing of the human condition.

I have no idea whether I explained any of this to Katie as we took the tour. Probably not.

The model was named Dagny Juel, who apparently had quite a tragic existence as artistic muses go; she even had an affair with August Strindberg, and that wasn't even the worst of it, as she eventually wound up taking another lover, who would kill her while her five-year-old son looked on. Kinda makes the painting almost prophetic.

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