John Zarobell

Andrew W. Mellon Regional Fellow in the Humanities

20052006 Forum on Word and Image

John Zarobell

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Assistant Curator, Department of European Painting and Sculpture before 1900

A Year in Paris: Edvard Munch's Mermaid and its Narratives

Edvard Munch painted Mermaid as an architectural decoration for the Norwegian industrialist Axel Heiberg in 1896. The unique format of this painting—long, narrow, and trapezoidal—reflects its intended placement in the topmost portion of Heiberg's house; it was intended to be seen from a distance. During this time, Munch was also involved in scene painting on the set for a production of Henrik Ibsen's drama Peer Gynt

Dr Zarobell explores the nexus of psychology, literature, and folklore in Munch's Mermaid, which is derived from Norse mythology and Ibsen's play, The Lady from the Sea, which begins with a scene of a painter depicting a mermaid for a wealthy Norwegian family. Munch's real-life task of portraying this mermaid for a wealthy Norwegian family brings the play to life. The representation becomes permanent, demanding an interpretation that blends visual and textual analysis. Dr. Zarobell argues that the literary nature of Munch's work (and his connections to dramatists, poets, and critics) requires that it be read through a textual lens. This project is part of the Spring 2006 Munch retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, as well as a Philadelphia Museum of Art dossier exhibition around Munch's Mermaid and other Munch prints from this period, which highlight the narrative characteristics of Munch's development during this historically significant period.