Kyle Hemmings — Notes on The Biography of E. H. Munch (3rd Edition)




1.   A recurrent regret by Munch throughout his days is that he always felt he “skimmed the surface of life,” without ever taking the plunge into its depths, never explored its secret caverns and precious archaeologies, never gave himself over to “smiling mermaids who spoke a universal sign language with bubbles and sweeping hand motions that could never be imitated by land wishers”.

2.  Munch was fond of misquoting Nietzsche. He believed in the philosopher’s view that the best time to die was when one was at the height of one’s powers. Munch said at parties, most likely as a joke, that he should have died at the age of ten.

3.  The relationship with Hedda Grubber has frustrated many would be biographers and cultists. It is filled with gaps and inconsistencies. Salek recalls from an interview with Munch that he (Munch) had met her at a Parisian nightclub “where the air stung one’s nostrils with all varieties of rose and orchard scents mixed with the heavy smoke from Turkish cigarettes.” He claimed that the singer seduced him that night by stuffing her sequined underwear down his trousers. Inexperienced in all matters of love and conquest, Munch and the older Hedda made love “on rooftops, on deserted beaches at night, inside army tanks scheduled to be scrapped, inside the belly of a shrine to the Ghost of North Halifax.”

4.  At the age of 95, Hedda denied much of what Munch revealed to journalists of the New Left. She did admit that Munch often trembled and remained silent for long periods of time after love making. When she asked him if anything was wrong, he gave his usual cryptic response, “Everything is wrong, Darling. The whole world is wrong and is in a downward spiral. I want to cry for everyone. But for the two of us, I will remain speechless. Perhaps we are all that matters.” They would then stay side by side in bed, holding hands in the darkness for hours, recalls Hedda.

5.  As noted by Gremlich, Munch exhibited a fascination with lizards and snakes in his early sketches. He remarked that they represented “the crudest forms of politicians and bureaucrats”.

6.  Hedda does recall the failed plot to assassinate Himmler much later and how several members of the Horst Brigade, including herself,  helped to spring Munch from prison and to a safe passage to Switzerland. There, Hedda gave birth to a baby that didn’t live long, but Munch denied it was his. During his bouts of depression and mental cloudiness, he claimed that a young British spy posing as a Nazi officer was the real father and Hedda refused to speak to him for weeks. In a more lucid and serene state, he described Hedda to Salek as a cross between “a big-hearted prostitute with wings and a shadowy butterfly denying the death of flowers.”

7.  “Try telling that fathead to behave himself before I knock his lights out,” was how Hedda often referred to Munch at all-night parties to the Dadaist, Martin Rou.

8.   There are two contrasting versions of the incident at Goat’s Head View. According to Munch, he was staying that summer with a young British friend who had invited him. Munch claims that he was kneeling at the edge of a cliff overlooking a glittering sea when his host, the prankster, Marshall, climbed up the cliff and taunted Munch to pull him up. When Munch attempted to, Marshall let go, perhaps hoping that Munch would fall over. Instead, Marshall fell backwards and spent the rest of the summer in bed with two broken arms and one fractured leg.

Marshall’s version differs in that it claims that Munch was the one who was taunting, and always “full of clever little tricks.”

9.  After the incident, Munch’s family moved him to an exclusive school on the continent where he excelled in languages and science.

10.  Munch often said that he never left the “ravaged grounds of puberty” and always experienced an erotic obsession with woman having large breasts, curvy hips, a Cheshire smile, and a mercurial temperament.

13.  What is being referred to here is the period of The Blank Canvas. Munch and Hedda decided to take a break from their tumultuous relationship. “So many broken eggshells with missing eggs and little white lies turning monstrous and black,” recalls Hedda. Actually, The Blank Canvas Period lasted roughly about seven months. During this time, Munch painted little, and cavorted with the amorous Hollywood starlet, Wanda Thrush, a one-time fling of Fritz Lang, although the latter denied it. Munch summarized the period as “a beautiful way to deny the emptiness of last night’s hangover.” Thrush later took up with the writer/safari hunter–Hugo Dietsch. Both she and an inexperienced guide were mauled to death by a lion. Dietsch was later killed by a Spanish bullfighter whose estranged wife the actor was romancing and were seen together swimming nude in the sea .

14.  Hedda was known to take her martinis with three olives “standing straight up”.

15.  The years between 1948 and 1964 were the most productive for Munch, art-wise. It was during this period that he developed his Red Lady series of semi-abstract paintings. Munch had become fascinated with the “emotional properties” of red and blue, with gradations of yellow thrown in. Most of the pieces have an abstract background composed of blue and red swirls and in the foreground, a faceless woman dressed in flapper hat, short fringe dress, and holding a cane, a la cabaret style. Art critics remarked that the red mostly likely symbolized the blood that later Munch obsessed over to such a degree that he painted skies and clouds streaked with it, until right before his institutionalization at Geneva, when he painted huge red balls against a dark canvas, perhaps symbolizing for him not only his ensuing blindness, but also, the end of the world.

16.  Roughly five weeks after his release from Saint Morgan’s, Munch, as noted by the increasingly brittle Hedda, seemed to be at peace with himself. However, after an argument in which Hedda accused him of “killing our baby,” even though Hedda had not given birth in over 38 years, Munch retreated into his study and shot himself with a revolver. The same one he intended to use on Himmler, many years before.

In her memoir, Hedda reconstructs this incident by stating that by “our baby” she meant the book of poems and paintings that she and Munch had been working on and off for years. She claimed that in a fit of rage and frustration, Munch had torn up the drafts, flinging them outside their Paris window, calling them “worthless birds.” He then fell into her arms and sobbed uncontrollably until he fell asleep. The next morning, Hedda found him dead from a gunshot wound, in the study.

17.  Hedda later moved to Norway, lived the rest of her life alone, and maintains in her memoir that Munch was the only man she ever truly loved, despite her numerous affairs with late Dadaists and young college students whom she taught as an associate professor of Modern Literature. She was later buried alongside Munch at a small cemetery in Bavaria. Wallach notes that “visitors claim they can hear them both dreaming of the other through closed caskets.”

18.  Translation: They must dream loudly.



Kyle Hemmings is a retired health care worker. His latest collections of poetry/prose are  Scream from Scars publications and Split Brain on Amazon Kindle. He loves 50s Sci-Fi movies,  manga comics, and pre-punk garage bands of the 60s.