Although Munch spent many of his formative years in Paris and Berlin (as Ibsen spent his in Italy) he remains an essentially Nordic artist. For the interminable twilight of summer he invented a curious symbol, which I suppose was inspired by a sun obstinately refusing to set, but looks like a candle with a globe above it. The icy breath of a northern winter he conveyed in a series of superb landscapes, which must surely convince anyone of his greatness as a 'pure' painter.
In 1908 his overstretched nervous system collapsed and he was confined to a clinic in Copenhagen. Writers on Munch maintain that he was not disturbed by this breakdown; but I find that it affected him profoundly. He seemed afraid that the symbols which had haunted him so long were like a dangerous magic, and might again upset his mental balance: so no more devouring women, no more whispering girls like white tents, no more summer nights. The greatest of his winter landscapes date from after his nervous collapse. And in these years an unpredictable thing happened. This man who had been a friend of the Symbolist poets in Paris, the least socially conscious of all groups, became passionately interested in the workers. In 1911 he painted a picture of snow shovellers which is perhaps the greatest of all attempts in this century to achieve what is known as socialist realism. The figures have the frontality which for Munch symbolised virility; they also have a look of weatherbeaten trees that have defied a hostile climate; and the whole is painted with vigorous pictorial freedom that is usually discouraged among realists in socialist countries.
Munch was undoubtedly the greatest painter of northern Europe; but it would be wrong to make too much of this geographical accident. He would have been a great painter anywhere, and in fact his pictorial aims were much closer to those of the main tradition of European art, from Giotto onwards, than were the aims of the Impressionists. (K. Clark, exh. cat, Edvard Munch, London, Hayward Gallery, 1974, p. 8).