Munch’s behavior, meanwhile, was becoming increasingly erratic, particularly with respect to women and drink. His relationship to women — or rather Woman with a capital W, as he put it in his journal — was complicated, to say the least. Known as the “handsomest man in Norway,” and well-mannered to boot, he attracted women as catnip does cats, but preferred to keep them at arm’s length. A couple of early affairs had gone wrong, and the antics of his friends had given him a warped sense of women. And he never wanted children, as he feared they would become insane. The classic Madonna/whore view of women is apparent in his paintings of what he called “vampire women” with “nutcracker muscles in their thighs.”
In a quarrel with his Norwegian mistress, Tulla Larsen, who stalked him all over Europe, he ended up shooting himself in a finger, which for the rest of his life remained sheathed in black leather. This slight injury he blew up to mythical proportions, painting himself stark naked on an operating table lying in a huge pool of blood. The motif was given an extra twist when he rendered himself as a revolutionary Marat with Miss Larsen as Charlotte Corday. Elsewhere he depicted his British mistress, the violinist Eva Mudocci, as Salome, with his own bedraggled features supplying John the Baptist’s severed head. It goes without saying that he also portrayed himself as a crucified Christ.
There were other regrettable incidents scattered throughout his life: He threatened a Dutchman with a pistol in a spa hotel in Kosen; through the window of his studio in Norway, he fired a shotgun after a fellow artist whose portrait he was painting. And, as Prideaux notes, his train journeys are the stuff of legend. On one occasion, he couldn’t find his compartment and believed the painting he had brought with him had been stolen. He presented himself to the conductor as a member of the British aristocracy and astonished the man by ordering him to find the painting immediately or “it might bring about war.” Fortunately, the conductor managed to locate Munch’s compartment, with the painting in it, for him. On another trip he fancied he was being watched by detectives who had been hired to spy on him and beset by people speaking Esperanto to trick him. His journal records the following meeting on a train: “A strange man with a birds head, spindly birds legs and a cloak flew into the carriage. ‘What is your metier?’ ‘A psychiatrist from Vienna.’”
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