Yuletide Scenes 3: Snow Falling in the Lane | Visual arts reviews, news & interviews
Yuletide Scenes 3: Snow Falling in the Lane
Edvard Munch's strangely ambiguous painting is the third in our series of visual festive treats
Christmas might not seem the most appropriate time to ask you, dear reader, if you’ve ever suffered a nervous breakdown. Yet for many this festival of conviviality amid the darkest hours of the year exacerbates a sense of loneliness and desperation. The break in routine, so welcome for most of us, can become a swift passage to the mental abyss. Snow, that magical, muffling coating of the damp, dark everyday world can appear – particularly in the northern countries – relentless and oppressive, yet another manifestation of a visual world that is veering out of control.
Every mark conveys a simultaneous sense of nature static and nature caught in a continual existential flux
If Tate’s not-very-good Munch exhibition earlier this year had one positive effect it was to puncture the widely held perception that every last brush stroke of the Norwegian painter’s oeuvre is an expression of manic depression and Nordic angst. The artist’s mental problems were probably alcohol-induced rather than innate, and there’s no documentary evidence that Snow Falling in the Lane, 1906, is anything other than a representation of two figures out for a winter walk. Yet it's impossible to look at this marvellous painting with its swirling forms and muted, deceptively pretty colours without feeling a slight sense of unease.
As in The Scream, the looping brush marks can be seen as representing the turmoil of the artist’s mind signifying a world that is out of control, where mental phenomena and physical forms are merging and bleeding into each other. Or they might be interpreted simply as a stylistic hangover from the influence of Art Nouveau. The greyish violet sky, darker than the glowing ground – the sort of light effect that creates a sense of wonder and expectation, certainly in the British mind – could represent a suffocating closing-in. And those faceless figures, abruptly truncated at the bottom of the painting, are they people known to the artist – children perhaps? (and certainly the informal title suggests an environment with which Munch is intimately familiar). Or are they anonymous manifestations of his paranoia?
There is no reason, of course, why there should be clear-cut answers to any of these questions. This is a painting, not a short story. It exists beyond narrative. So let’s for the benefit of this festive moment say simply that this is a wonderfully spontaneous work in which every mark conveys a simultaneous sense of nature static under its carpet of gathering white and nature caught in a continual existential flux. The balance of colours is exquisite, and the snowflakes, plastered onto the surface in thick gobbets of paint add an extra spatial dimension. The beauty of Snow Falling in the Lane isn’t an easy one, and that generally is for the best.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
more Visual arts
The Laurel and Hardy of the art world venture from comedy to failed utopian dreams
Eclipsed by her painter husband, the artist is finally receiving full recognition
Hypnotically arresting portrait and abstract paintings that play with variation and repetition
The Minimalist who rejected abstraction for figurative painting. Or did she?
An artist out of step with much of the art of her times paints canvases as charged as altar panels
The ravishing and gently surreal works of one of Britain's greatest watercolourists
A powerful meditation on time through dating, mapping and listing
A colourful guide to the 10 varied spaces inhabited by this year's eclectic festival
Brides, whores and nanas: the visceral works that draw on the artist's difficult life
From Eden to an embodiment of the power of the state: the garden in myth and reality
Eccentric visionary talks birds, shamanism, intoxicated animals and the Brighton Festival
More than the sum of its parts: an exploration of how the human form was perfected