It is said that the late artist Edvard Mönch (1863-1944) left the radio 24 hours a day at his home in Oslo. There were often two or more, each in a room and open to a different radio – so much so that Mönch doubted the silence. It seems appropriate about the reputation of this artist, as his most famous work to date is his painting “The Scream”.
The image of his work easily entered popular culture – and inspired many things in our lives, from the widely used emojis on our cell phones, to the Macaulay Culkin pose on the “Home Alone” poster – which, in a way mass, cast a shadow throughout the career of the aforementioned representative.
Fortunately, an upcoming exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery in London offers a look at Münch beyond his most famous work (The Scream). The exhibition will give us an idea of the artist through 18 works – 11 that have never been shown in the UK before. All of these works are taken from the magnificent Mönch collection housed in the KODE Museum in Bergen, Norway’s second largest city. These works were purchased by the mill owner and collector of art collections, Bergen’s son, Rasmus Mayer, and later bequeathed to the city after his death.
The works to be exhibited cover a period of 25 years and are generally representative of the culmination of the Munich experience: from the mid-1880s to 1909 (the latter who saw him stay for nine months in a sanatorium after suffering a nervous crisis). This quarter-century period covers his early flirtations with Impressionism in a method that would later become part of his particular style, namely expressionism. Scream appeared during the same period, but is not part of the Code collection (Munch actually painted two versions of The Scream: one in 1893, the other around 1910).
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More than a century has passed and the Moench moment seems to be coming again, as the Courtauld Gallery follows an exhibition in 2021 at the Royal Academy, in which a selection of Norwegian art was presented along with a selection of works by Tracey Emin. The British artist considers herself Mönch’s “first fan” and says that before she became acquainted with his work, she had not “realized that there is an art through which people can express their emotions”.
Last year also saw the impressive results of an auction of Mönch’s works, most notably the sale of his 1904 painting “Summer Day or Embrace on the Beach (The Linde Frieze)” for .2 16.28 million (about $ 20 million). At Sotheby’s, London.
Moreover, in October 2021, the new Mönch Museum was inaugurated, a large 13-storey, 26,131-square-meter building on Oslo’s waterfront. This new museum is about four times larger than the old Mönch Museum, which opened in the 1960s. It was located in an easily accessible part of town called Twain.
How can we explain the renewed star that Mönch enjoys? This is partly due to the fact that Mönch made portraits and paintings that reflect his equally interesting life. His childhood was marked by tragic events: he lost his mother and older sister Sophie to tuberculosis when he was five and thirteen years old. He never tolerated giving up the chair in which Sophie died, and today it can now be found in the Mönch Museum. Edward’s father was a bankrupt soldier in the Army Medical Units, a Puritan believer in the “piety movement” (advocating religious revival and a focus on personal morality), and he beat his children for trivial reasons.
His adult years, however, were no longer happy, as he struggled with lung problems, alcoholism, public phobia and many other things, including a series of emotional failures (he never married and had no children). One of those romances was with a woman named Tula Larsen, the daughter of a wine merchant, with whom Mönch was briefly associated. This connection ended with a wound caused by a gunshot wound. The details are unclear, but in Sue Prideaux’s biography of artist Edvard Munch: Behind the Scream, the author hypothesizes that Tula shot the artist during an altercation, which caused him to lose a large portion of his left middle finger. .
Mönch’s personal sufferings have been reflected in his art throughout his career. And this did not necessarily translate into the transfer of real life directly to painting, but rather embodied it more with the general mood in his works. A good example of this mood is Melancholy (1894-1896) from the Code Museum collection, as it depicts a frustrated, sideways and sad man sitting on a Norwegian coast fading into the distance behind him. The artist always insisted that he “did not want to paint beautiful paintings on the studio walls”, but wanted to produce “art from the heart”. And this in most cases is embodied in his simplification of forms and the use of colors in a very expressive way. Never before has Western art experienced such an emotional momentum as the one we feel in the face of this work, which also draws great energy from knowing the one who sees in advance that what he sees comes from the true trials and pains of the artist (It is useful to note here that Munch was not perfect and his art sometimes fell into the traps of melodrama – in his best works he avoided falling into that trap).
In fact, even those who know nothing about the artist’s life can admire and appreciate his imagination, as in universal themes like love, sex, jealousy, disease, isolation, guilt, anxiety, despair and death. The painting Man and Woman (1898), which depicts the scene of two naked partners making love, incorporates many elements of these themes at once. As Stein Heinrichsen, director of the Muench Museum, said in his inaugural speech at the inauguration of the new museum, “there is no need for a doctorate to enjoy Muench’s work … it deals with [أشياء] “We all have to face it in life.”
All of this may be true, but that does not explain the young star the artist has enjoyed since 2020. Coincidentally, another major exhibition is currently underway, entitled “Edvard Munch. In Dialogue Albertina Museum in Vienna” Edvard Munch. At the Dialogueat the Albertina Museum in Vienna, his main focus is on Norwegian influence on some modernist artists, such as Peter Doig, Marilyn Dumas and Georg Baselitz (plus Andy Warhol).
Perhaps part of the explanation for Mönch’s current star is the aftermath of “The Scream” and the emotions associated with it. In 2012, a chalk version of this painting sold for $ 119.9 million (74 74 million) at Sotheby’s in New York: at the time, the highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction.
Scream has been given a new life in the twenty-first century. His fierce hero of concern has become a stenography and a symbol – in cartoons and memes – expressing our various contemporary crises, from the Brexit climate crisis.
In addition, it can be reflected in the extent to which the Corona virus pandemic has given Mönch’s art “a whole new meaning.” These are the words of Simon Shaw, Sotheby’s Vice President of Fine Arts, ahead of the sale of “Summer Day or Hug at the Beach” at Lindy Friese auction last year. “Munch is here with us, in death and in sickness” and in loneliness and grief, Chau also said. “The pandemic has been good for Mönch … because he has brought us back to the topics that were important to him, to the first issues of life … the pandemic has made us appreciate his work very much.”
In fact, Mönch was affected by the Spanish flu during the 1918 pandemic and described what he had experienced at the time in a famous painting that appeared the following year, entitled “Self-Portrait with the Spanish Flu” (now part of the collection of Norwegian National Museum in Oslo).
Mönch is then an artist representing the era in which we live. Visiting his gallery today at the Courtauld Gallery should be like a ‘cry’.
Edvard Munch Bergen’s immortal works Edvard Munch. The Bergen masterpieces take place at the Courtauld Gallery, London WC2, from 27 May to 4 September. Courtauld.ac.uk
* The article was published in The Independent on May 23, 2022