The “Self-Portrait with a Wine Bottle” is not a
representation of the physical appearance of the painter, Edvard Munch, but
rather it is a psychological expression of his inner dilemmas. As such we can
call this a portrayal of the painter’s troubled psyche.
Therefore, this picture cannot be explained like a photograph, by the
images it conveys. It can only be understood by the clear definition of what
it represents. The feelings such as fear, loneliness, hopelessness,
uncertainty, and concepts such as phobia, isolation and death are symbolized
by the unique technique of the artist and the symbolic values of the few
discernable objects in the painting.
The use of colors itself, in the first place, gives the painting a grim
tone. Most hues are dull and cold and warm hues have darkness and contrasts
in themselves. For example, as stated in the oppressing dark red background
puts the man in a state of tortured existence. A striking exception in the
usage of colors is the brightly colored necktie, which is a focus of
attention in the painting and is a vivid blood red. This may well be a
metaphor and the tie most probably represents his jugular. I assume that this
is one of the symbols representing death. Another is the tables, which make
one think of “white clad coffins”.
The artist has an expression of nearly catatonic lament; and lines of
pain and anguish is visible in his features, as well as represented by his
distorted form. The people in the background seem distant and cold, giving a
sense of alienation and helplessness. As such, the only friendly figure in
the painting seems to be the wine bottle, which stands out in the picture and
is seemingly has more “substance” than anything else, except the
painter, in the picture. This can be explained by Munch's increasing
subsistance on tobacco and alcohol.
This most certainly defines the psychological state of Munch in 1906,
lonely and in anguish. His life has always been an oppressing and painful
one, yet his neurosis reached its zenith in those years and after a neural
breakdown in 1908-09, he was voluntarily confined in Dr. Jacobson’s
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