Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Cigar Smokin' Norwegian!

Edvard Munch (1863-1944) was a Norwegian painter whose famous paintings addressed such themes as love (e.g., The Kiss), fear, death, melancholia (e.g., Melancholia), and anxiety (e.g., The Scream). The painting The Scream, is, of course, very famous and recognizable.

Edvard Munch--The Scream

Munch was the son of a Lutheran pastor, but he seems to have misplaced his Christianity as he got older and dabbled in spiritualism. His pious, if somewhat imbalanced father, was angry when Munch decided to become an artist, as he saw it as an "unholy trade" and unworthy of a Christian. His father even destroyed one of Munch's paintings (probably a nude) and stopped supporting Munch and his studies.

After enrolling at the Royal School of Art and Design of Christiania, focused on various styles, including Naturalism and Impressionism. There he came into contact with bohemian types, including radicals and nihilists. During this time he became increasingly introspective, and therefore his paintings began to reflect the emotional states in what is called "soul painting."

Eventually he moved to Paris to study under the painter Léon Bonnat. Applying the techniques of Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Henri Toulouse-Latrec, Munch learned to use colors to convey emotion. Art was not to be imitation of Nature, but was rather to be a subjective human expression and invention.

By 1892, Munch had perfected his style, called Synthetist aethetic, where color plays such an important role.

Edvard Munch--Melancholia

Munch moved to Berlin, where his exhibition created a great stir (called "The Munch Affair") which pleased him greatly. It was in Berlin where he fashioned the idea for one of his great series of works called The Frieze of Life, of which the famous painting The Scream is one. The Frieze of Life was conceived as a sort of painted poem of life, love, and death.

Munch also painted some paintings with religious themes, most notably perhaps his Golgotha and his The Empty Cross.

Edvard Munch--Golgotha

Golgotha is striking by the fact that no one is paying attention to the Crucified Christ; rather, all have their backs turned on Christ. It is a depiction of modernity and its rejection of Christ.

In 1908, Munch suffered a nervous breakdown. His health was further weakened by excessive drinking. After significant medical treatment, he appeared to recover and returned to Norway. There, he seemed to settle into a sort of normalcy and his paintings took a turn from their pessimism and melancholia, eventually concentrating on farming and rural scenes as well as a series of nudes. He also painted a series of self-portraits. His paintings were categorized as degenerate, and there was fear when the Nazis took over Norway that his works would be destroyed.

Munch enjoyed cigars, and one self-portrait shows him completely encircled in smoke, with a cigar in his left hand, as he gesticulates with his right.

Edvard Munch-Self Portrait

Friday, February 17, 2012

Cigar-Smoking Martyr and Saint

The Mexican Jesuit priest, Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez (1891-1927) was executed under the presidency of the rabidly anti-Catholic presidency of Plutarco Elías Calles. It was a level of prosecution rarely seen, one described by Graham Greene as the "fiercest persecution of religion anywhere since the reign of Elizabeth." On September 25, 1988, Blessed Miguel Pro was beatified as a Catholic martyr. He is well known for his courage during his execution (without trial) on November 23, 1927, where he boldly proclaimed, "¡Viva Cristo Rey!" Long Live Christ the King!

Blessed Miguel Pro, Disguised, Smoking a Cigar
in front of Presidential Palace

One of the interesting little quirks of this martyr was his delight in using disguises to avoid conflict with the anti-Christian authorities. In one instance, he was bold enough to take a picture incognito in front of the palace of Plutarco Elías Calles in a three-piece suit and his panama straw boater hat, smoking a cigar.

¡Viva Cristo Rey!