Edvard Munch’s paintings and drawings illustrate his raw feelings; his themes are clustered around loneliness, love and melancholy. They are the ultimate results of what he felt after losing his mother and sister. Including the issues of the modern life as well, the wish for isolation due to the overwhelming city life with contrast to nature becomes a major theme for Munch. Relevantly, traces of Norway find existence in Munch’s paintings, depicting the cold blue colors of the North with all its mystery and wildness.
Edvard Munch is complicated and connecting with him is possible through his paintings. Separation or Løsrivelse in Norwegian is a concrete example of these features, reflecting Munch like a mirror on canvas.
In the painting, there is a male and a female figure, surrounded by a tree and the sea. As the surface appears to be flat, the dark male figure in black is standing towards the viewer, with eyes closed and a hand gesture addressed towards his heart and the bright female figure in white is facing towards the sea, with her hair and dress flying about. At the very front of the image, there exists a pair of plants in the same color with the man’s hand lines.
By the first glimpse, Separation is striking with the triggers of heartbreak, pain and sadness, which are reoccurring themes in Munch’s paintings, possibly depending on his relationships with women. The powerful representation of these feelings seems to be achieved with the richness of contrasts and symbols to be found all over the canvas.
First of all, there is a powerful contrast between the male and the female. The male figure is in black, the color of despair, while the female figure is in an angelic white, the color of divinity and purity. As these colors create the great contradiction between the man and the woman, actually both characters remain impersonalized as they do not have any other characteristic features depicted, in fact, the woman is even faceless. Namely, it is the color that creates the character of the figures.
The contrast of colors seem to also exist between the left and right side of the painting in general, in line with the contrast between the characters. The left side of the painting where man stands is depicted through the usage of darker and gloomier colors. The tree on the left looks also quite unfruitful with no vivid color or leaves, lacking liveliness which may be a metaphor for the lost love that no longer has a future. On the contrary, the right side where the woman stands has more of a bright scenery with colors of white, gold and blue.
As the use of nature seems to be in accompaniment with the overall feeling of the scene, both the tree and the sea appear as if they are watching the break-up. Moreover, this accompaniment is depicted through the dress of the woman that is shown as a part of the earth and her hair that entangles the tree and reaches the man’s neck. The sea shore is depicted as if it is departing from the man, carrying the woman along with itself. Meanwhile the dress tags along with this departure, the hair is quite representative of the opposite, namely duration. In this occasion, the long blonde hair of the woman symbolizes the connection that the man still feels. While the woman is moving away and leaving the man, he is staying behind with the great pain and the memories that do not let him be at ease. In other words, he is not able to move on. This pain is further on symbolized with the man’s hand at his heart.
The symbolization continues with the color of blood used to depict the man’s hand curves and lines. The extent of pain is strengthened by this depiction while the two plants at the front are the exact same red color, which resemble to be the man’s heart. Even though the woman leaves the man and he is left with no choice to move on, along with the hair, these plants also seem to block him from doing so.
This pessimistic approach towards love and relationships once again shows traces of Munch’s personal life and affairs, in a 1903 entry in his diary, he confirms this, “My art found its roots in that reflection where I saw an explanation for this disparity in my relation to life – Why was I not like others? . . . The curse and reflection over this became the undertone of my art.”