Male jealousy virtually speaks out of every brushstroke. The Norwegian artist Edvard Munch addressed the topic of jealousy again and again – and by no means solely because of general interest in its depiction. The face of the man on the left provides a clue to the autobiographical background. It is Munch’s friend Stanisław Przybyszewski, a Polish writer and notorious womanizer. For a time, he and Munch shared a liking for the same woman. We can accordingly conclude that Munch saw himself in the man on the right. As a means of expressing a universal truth and making emotion visible as such, however, he abstracted jealousy here from all specific references to reality.
The painting thus does not relate a particular incident but illustrates a classical ménage à trois. Not even an interior is identifiable. The varied coloration of the faces serves to distinguish the characters’ differing states of mind. The countenance on the left seems to express raging jealousy, that on the right the gnawing kind. And the woman between the two men, dressed in innocent white? She is a strange mixture of passivity and non-involvement on the one hand, and active seduction on the other. Munch found women inscrutable. He was one of the great individualists among the painters, and an early leading figure for the Expressionists.