Science and occultism in Edvard Munch's painting Puberty and The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil sketchbook
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This thesis places Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) within the newly developing cultural context of science and occultism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By highlighting key works within his oeuvre, the thesis illustrates the significance of the emerging scientific discoveries of invisible energies, such as X-rays, in addition to occult practices, such as Spiritualism and Theosophy, for Munch. The first chapter examines Munch’s early introductions to occult traditions, providing a thorough description of the occult atmosphere of 1880s Oslo, in addition to highlighting the occult practices surrounding the group of artists and writers at the café Zum Schwarzen Ferkel [The Black Piglet] in Berlin. Through an analysis of the progression of the many versions of his painting Puberty, chapter one establishes the significance of Munch’s early introduction to such occult themes. Building upon the occult foundation of chapter one, chapter two investigates the developments of Munch’s interest in Theosophy by highlighting the importance of new scientific discoveries such as electromagnetism and biological monism, exhibited for example in his 1909-1916 murals for the University of Oslo’s Aula [Festival Hall]. Chapter three demonstrates how the artist’s interest in Theosophy manifests itself both in his visual work and his private journals, concluding with a discussion of his sketchbook project The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (1930-35, with earlier drawings added), which I argue sought to integrate the varying occult and scientific ideas he encountered in order to create a new spiritual ideology.