A photographic self-portrait of Edvard Munch standing naked in the garden of his summer house in Åsgårdstrand, executed in the summer of 1903, might be seen in connection with one of his famous self-portraits painted the same year.
Self-Portrait in Hell clearly reveals how Munch at the time perceived his position as a man and an artist: a private hell.
In the foreground, Edvard Munch has placed his own naked and unprotected figure. The abstract background is painted with fierce, expressive brush-strokes that provoke an intense, nervous atmosphere. The colour-scale goes from yellow /orange to orange /brown via red to black and is reminiscent of flames and smoke. The huge black field to the left of the figure forms a tremendous threatening shadow that might evoke ideas of a grave or a great black wing.
The head with its dark contour is red as flames, while the figure seems to be illuminated from below. This gives the skin a wax-like yellow tone and also emphasises the white areas of the eyes. The light-effect thus contributes to the picture’s eerie atmosphere. A red brush-stroke traverses the neck like a wound.
Despite the obvious painfulness of the psychological situation, the painting doesn’t present the artist as a helpless victim. Munch stands upright and self-assured, supporting himself on his strong arm as if he is posing for an official portrait. He is totally aware of his horrible situation, but has decided not to succumb. He has rather portrayed himself as a dark ruler of his own gloomy kingdom. The flames and smoke might refer to guilt and inner torment, but also to energetic rage.