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100 Highlights
of the MFAH
Take a tour through some of the most significant objects in the MFAH collections. On these pages, you can browse 100 highlights from collections throughout the institution. Then visit the Museum in person to discover your own favorites.
© 2010 The Munch Museum / The Munch-Ellingsen Group / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Norwegian, 1863 - 1944
Lithograph printed on heavy gray-green paper

Stone: 18 x 12 5/8 inches
Sheet: 22 x 15 3/4 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Isabel B. Wilson and The Brown Foundation, Inc.

Arts of Europe

This psychologically probing self-portrait is one of Edvard Munch’s first lithographs and his earliest known graphic self-portrait. Like artists Rembrandt van Rijn and Käthe Kollwitz, Munch made self-portraits in various media throughout his life, recording his psychic state at different periods. This representation is an especially chilling example.

Emerging from the darkness, Munch’s disembodied head--a common motif in late-19th-century Symbolist art--floats in a velvety black ether. His forearm and hand, symbols of his artistic creativity, lie across the lower edge. At the top, balancing the arm, is a white band in which Munch inscribed his name and the date, 1895. Thus configured, the image resembles a tombstone and evokes the timeless motif of memento mori (reminder of mortality or death), as well as the image of Christ on the Sudarium of Oviedo, believed to be the burial face cloth of Jesus.

Several features indicate that this print is a very early impression. The artist used an olive-green paper, which enhances the image’s psychological effect, for proof impressions. The edition was printed on white or gray papers. In addition, the striations in the background disappeared in later impressions as the ink puddled on the stone.