How come blue is the color of melancholy?

 Today my study of Bluets has led me home –

Edvard Munch, Melankoli (Melancholy), oil on canvas, 1892 © National Gallery, Oslo

As with many of Edvard Munch‘s works, “Melancholy” appears in several different versions and techniques. (His repeated use of the same concepts has made it difficult to identify some works due to the lack of precise descriptions). The “Melancholy” composition began as a pastel drawing of 1891, and was painted between 1891 and 1892 (in painting the compositions are also known as “The Yellow Boat”, “Evening and “Jealousy) . A first woodcut version made in 1896 had the foreground figure on the left, and only the faintest indication of the figures on the pier.

The main figure is said to represent the writer Jappe Nielsen, who suffers for his hopeless love of Oda Krogh, pictured with her newly-married husband, Christian, on the pier.

Oda with friend and lover, the poet Jappe Nilssen in 1891


The melancholy seen in the pictures of Munch seems to be rather grave, and to me Jappe Nilssen looks more than sad. But traditionally there is a difference between melancholy and depression. Wordsworth put it like this: Melancholy (…) is a luxurious gloom, of choice. According to Jacky Bowring, unlike depression we choose to be melancholic, paradoxically deriving pleasure from feeling faintly sad.

I wonder what’s the case in Bluets,
is feeling blue a kind of choice?

5 Comments Add yours

  1. dianajhale says:

    Some of my favourite paintings – I enjoy melancholy but I agree these look more than that!

  2. KM Huber says:

    Apropo of nothing, Sigrun, wanted to ask if you are familiar with the Icelandic writer Sjon? Recently heard him discuss his work, and I thought of you when he talked about Skugga-Baldur (The Blue Fox) – Bjartur 2003. I am hoping to locate some of his work.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Dear Karen,
      all I know is that Sjón (Sigurjón B. Sigurðsson) received the Nordic Councils’s Literature Prize for his novella Skugga-Baldur (The Blue Fox) in 2005 – and that he is well known for different kinds of creative work. Love to hear what you think of his literature!

  3. Rio says:

    I have found that depression takes all the “juice” out of colours, and so the qualities that blue is associated with are not appreciated.
    Feeling “blue” is something that can be very resortative, causing us to reflect and to withdraw from activity. It is a time when we can acknowledge what is otherwise difficult to process, like a failed romance.
    Depression is not restorative. It may at first appear to be the same but it is an illness that takes a heavy toll on the sufferer and those who love them.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Agree, there really is no need to romanticize depression. Melancholy as a luxurious gloom, of choice – sure have to be something else than depression.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.