Edvard Munch’s damaged retina

An Edvard Munch exhibition opens at Tate Modern today. Curator Nicholas Cullinan writes on the Tate blog that the exhibition looks “beyond the clich�s of Munch as an angst-ridden and brooding Nordic artist who painted scenes of isolation and trauma” to focus on the neglected aspects of his often radical work, particularly his use of film and photography, and his “obsessive reworking of motifs.”

Edvard Munch The Artists�s Retina: Optical Illusion from the Eye Disease, 1930, watercolour and pencil on paper 49.7 x 47.1 cm, Munch Museum/Munch-Ellingsend Group/DACS 2012. Courtesy Munch Museum, Oslo.

I also learned at the Tate blog that when Munch was 66, he suffered a serious intraocular hemorrhage in his right eye, and, later, another one in his left. The condition left a blind spot, splotches and blood clots that impacted both his vision and his painting. He documented the effects in watercolors and drawings, but the visual impairment affected his other work as well. Michael F. Marmor writes in Tate, etc. that
Munch drew several types of images during his convalescence. A recurrent one is a set of concentric circles, often vividly coloured, which resemble the aura that one sees around bright lights on a foggy day. It is possible that these represent a view through his resolving haemorrhage as he looked towards an electric light or the sun. He annotated many of his drawings �electric light�, �sunshine�, etc, to indicate the conditions under which they were made, but did not actually date them. The order of colours varies, so they don�t appear to be illustrating a rainbow effect, which would be constant. Whatever else, they do show that Munch must have been intrigued by the patterns of light and colour that suffused his eye as the haemorrhage slowly cleared.
Read the entire fascinating story here.
Edvard Munch, Disturbed Vision, 1930, oil on canvas 80 x 64 cm. Courtesy of the Munch Museum
Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait: Between the Clock and the Bed, 1940�3,

Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye, curated by Nicholas Cullinan, curator of international modern art, Tate Modern,with Shoair Mavlian, assistant curator. Tate Modern, London,  28 June � 14 October.

Related post:
Munch: Navigating the messiness of his own present (2009)


Subscribe to Two Coats of Paint by email.


  1. Dear Sharon,

    since a while it isnt possible for me to read your articles. The website is not working on my Computer. Maybe it�s only a problem of my Computer but maybe not. Just want to let you know.
    And it�s a real pity for me that I can�t read the articles. Especially the Nozkowski Interview.
    All the best from Germany

  2. k–Thanks for letting me know. Anyone else having trouble reading the blog? If yes, please let me know so I can determine if k is experiencing problems on his/her computer, or if there is a problem with the site. Thanks.

  3. Got here from Painters Table. Cannot read your Munch post either. Tried to access it from your homepage, but clicking "READ MORE" only brings me to this comments page. . . .
    -Henry McMahon

  4. This site works for me in Safari but not in Firefox. Hope that helps.

  5. I can see it all, but perhaps the problem is fixed now.

  6. I meant to comment when you first posted this. I love that he abstracted his floaters and spots. I also wonder if Munch was painting a Weiss ring – which is exactly what I saw when I had tears in the retinas of both eyes last year. The ring moved constantly.

    The first episode was very scary, but I managed to paint what I was seeing. Curiosity in replicating a new 'vision' seemed to subdue any fear factor.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *