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A feeling of strangeness and perhaps a touch of fear may be set the viewers of this painting, for it is unfathomable and talks in riddles. One could of course describe it as quite a friendly sight. Because what it depicts is a pier – at the popular seaside resort Aasgaardstrand, by the Oslofjord in Norway. Standing by the railing are four girls, one of whom is holding a cheerful strawhat of a sunshine yellow. It is obviously summer, a season that is very short in Norway but all the more cherished for that.

And yet a cheerful atmosphere refuses to emerge. The composition and the palette simply do not allow it. The pier, estranged by the use of pink with red and blue streaks, points like a wedge at a steep angle to the shore. The trees appear as flat, blackish-green shapes with most emphatic contours. The sky is turquoise, the wan moon hangs low above the horizon, and the dark violet crown of the large tree is mysteriously reflected in the watery depths: together, everything invokes an unreal, nightmarish scenario. The girls are huddled in a group as if seeking protection and can only be distinguished from one another by the powerful colours of their dresses.

Munch lingered over this motif for many years and returned to it in a number of thematic variations. Although the starting point here is the geographical location of his summer home, the strong colours of the composition that are at odds with actual appearances, the summary forms, and the mysterious quality of the seemingly forlorn figures mean that the painting is not so much a depiction of the external world as an attempt to depict mental processes and states. This interest in visualising inner worlds and marginal situations was central to Munch’s art, and can also be seen in his numerous portraits. 

Edvard Munch: Girls on a Pier, 1905

Edvard Munch
Løten 1863 – 1944 Ekely/Skoyen

Girls on a Pier
1905, Oil on Canvas, 126 x 126 cm
Received in 1949 as a gift from the Kölner Kunstfreunde
Inv. Nr. WRM 2816