Ashes. What is left after a flaming desire? In Ashes Munch has depicted a young couple in a dusky forest. The atmosphere is filled with despair and hopelessness. The man sits in the left corner with his head in his hands. His face has a sickly, green tone. The woman stands in the centre of the motif with both hands on her long, red hair. Her eyes are directed towards the viewer and her face is marked by despair and desolation.
The woman is wearing a half unbuttoned white dress, and one can glimpse her red undergarment. Munch’s use of colour in this period often has a symbolic implication. White is the colour of innocence while red symbolizes passion and love. Black, on the other hand, indicates sorrow and death.
The motif Ashes is a depiction of absence – the absence of love, but also the absence of interaction, communication and joy of life. With their emotional posture along with a feeling of guilt that seems to burden them, the couple at the same time has a strong presence. The picture has also carried the title After the Fall. This title adds a biblical or mythological dimension to the motif.
The first version of Ashes is from 1894 and hangs in the National Gallery in Oslo. The painting found in the Munch museum is a later version executed around 1925-1929.