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 7,000 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
An imaginative refit with 14 new galleries to tell the story of The Great War
On mounting a show which gives a forgotten artist the recognition she deserves
An exhilarating exhibition following the arc of the Russian modernist's career
The Bloomsbury writer's brilliance distilled in a powerful and deeply moving exhibition
theartsdesk recommends the half-dozen top exhibitions
Two exhibitions offer an overview of the modernist artist, yet he still eludes us
Musical values outstanding, decor and dance not bad in tribute to Diaghilev opera-ballet
A mischievous display from the sculptor, painter, photographer, prankster and storyteller
Connections explored in an exhibition that takes a fresh look at the St Ives group
A trip for techies down memory lane, plus a glimpse at the 'interactive' future
An exploration of colour brings art and science together, but it's an uneasy relationship
Actor's black and white images are a bustling Sixties time capsule