Separation: Painting Analysis

By Baya Ginsburg

The cycle of life is one of nature’s biggest cruelties. No matter how hard immortality is chased, it can never be achieved. Nature’s pull is too strong to avoid, so all creatures end up being swallowed back into the earth, where they came. Death is prevalent in all life, so many are fascinated by it. Paintings, books, stories are all made by humans who try to capture its essence. Edvard Munch is one of those people, and painted a beautiful piece that tells a story of life and death. A golden woman is pictured on a golden path, heading off of the painting, while a man in all black stands sadly in the corner. In his painting “Separation” Munch shows what the death of a loved one can do, through the color choice, the scenery, and the placement of the characters.

Separation - Edvard Munch — Google Arts & Culture

Separation By  Edvard Munch

This painting has two completely opposing colors, white and black. The woman is full of white and gold colors, lighting up the entire scene. She walks on a path of gold, heading towards something we cannot see. White and gold represent innocence and purity, and she is full of it. This outburst of color represents loss because she is painted as angelic. The colors are also the colors of heaven, and it looks as if she is on a pathway to it. There is nothing holding her back, she is almost floating off of the ground. On the contrary, the man is hunched over, dark colors covering his face, clothes, and the ground around him. Black and grey represent despair and are the opposite of white and gold. He is on the ground with no path to follow, heavy shoulders weighing him down to the ground. In fact, his path is blocked by a bloodred bush, the color of hurt and pain. The only thing about him that is light is the hand placed over his heart. He is covering his heart with a glowing hand, showing the connection to the glowing woman. This contrast of black and white can show the ascension to heaven, and the sadness of the man left behind. 

The scenery also plays a large part in “Separation.” The scenery on right side of the painting, where the woman is, has a body of water next to the golden path she is on. The area is open and full of light, which is relaxing to look at to the viewer. She is painted as if she is going to float away into the sky, or into heaven. The way her background is painted shows that she is heading away from the man, into the light. The man is surrounded by a dark tree and a bloodred bush blocking him. He is grounded, stuck to this earth as he watches the woman he loves leave him. The way the scenery keeps him from moving shows he is rooted in place, unable to follow her. Munch placed the scenery in a way that shows the woman is leaving, while the man is stuck behind, showing loss and having to deal with death.

The man and the women are painted in a deliberate way to show the man is dealing with loss. The woman is facing away, not looking back, while her hair flows into the man. She is not looking at this man, showing it is time for her to move on and not let anything hold her back. Munch also is an artist that uses hair quite often in his paintings, and can often even be a central part of the piece. For example, he has pieces such as “Man’s in Woman’s Hair,” “Girl Combing Her Hair” and “Nude With Long Red Hair.” When he paints hair, it usually is something to pay attention to. In this case, her long hair is seemingly reaching out to the man, the one thing connecting them together. It shows that in some way they are important to each other, showing the sense of loss. The man is pictured hunched over, standing in place, with his path blocked, hand over heart. This portrays the sadness he is feeling. Their positioning ties them together, and shows the woman moving on and the man’s sadness.

This painting shows a lot through the details. The colors are the most eye-catching part, with a large contrast showing the sense of moving on and loss. The scenery is a bit more subtle, but still manages to reveal a lot about how the man feels left behind. Even the woman’s hair is important, showing their tie together. Nature is taking its course, forcing them apart. Edvard Munch is the type of artist who takes a lot of time painting in the details to tell a story. Here, he tells a tale of the cycle of life.

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