In Edvard Munch’s self-portrait, we see the figure of a man with a lighted cigarette, enveloped in gray tobacco smoke, which is intended to increase the expressiveness of the artist’s face and his right hand in the painting. In fact, this smoke becomes a frame, a framing for them, slowly rising from the right sleeve to the artist’s temples – an additional limiting effect is created by the dazzling whiteness of the cuff and wide collar. Thin strokes of red paint indicate swollen veins on the back of the hand, the right temple and right forehead are tinted yellow. Thanks to this technique, the viewer’s attention is focused on the artist’s gaze, on his strong, nervous brush. For greater expressiveness, Munch abandons local colors in favor of primary ones. More importantly, he almost completely abandons the realistic rendering of any background. The space in which the artist’s figure is placed, as if growing out of a kind of abyss, is drawn with rather liquid oil paints, hurried, mostly red and blue strokes.
The painter’s carefully drawn face and hand with a cigarette are opposed by the artist to an almost abstract reproduction of the environment, and this is what makes the picture so lively and immediate. Of course, the contrast between the lightness and weightlessness of the blue cigarette haze and the artist’s direct, stern and decisive gaze directed into the mirror often pushed critics to interpret the picture using facts from the artist’s biography, but in his posture there is such courage and determination that it becomes clear: he is above any interference in his life and work.
By the time of the creation of the painting Self-Portrait with a Lit Cigarette, in which Edvard Munch strove to understand his own image and his personality, the artist had gone through a significant part of his creative path, which ran through scandals, hard work and misfortune. Illness and heightened sensitivity accompanied Munch’s creative development and formed the essence of his artistic vision.
Year of painting: 1895.
Dimensions of the painting: 110.5 x 85.5 cm.
Writing technique: oil.
Gallery: National Gallery, Oslo, Norway.