Art review - British Museum (London) - “Edvard Munch: love and angst”
“Edvard Munch: love and angst”
“Edvard Munch: love and angst” at the British Museum in London is a major exhibition of works by the turn-of-the century Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. Although it includes some paintings and drawings, the exhibition focuses on Munch's printmaking. Of the 83 works on exhibition, 50 are prints on loan from the Munch Museum in Oslo.
In many respects, Edvard Munch had a difficult life. Born in 1863 into a middle class family, he grew up in Kristiania, now Oslo. His mother died when he was five and her death was followed by that of his favorite sister a few years later from tuberculous. Another sister was later diagnosed as insane. Edvard, who was a sickly child was plagued with worries that all of this was hereditary. “Angels of fear, sorrow and death stood by my side since the day I was born.”
Munch's father was almost fanatically religious. He diapproved of his son's interest in art, his Bohemian friends and his creations. Nonetheless, he grudgingly subsidized Edvard's endeavours from time to time.
To pass the time during his childhood illnesses, Edvard turned to drawing. By the time he was a teenager, art dominated his life. In 1881, he entered the Royal School of Art and Design in Kristiania. However, much of his early work was inspired by the French Impressionists, who were considered quite radical at the time.
During a trip to Paris to see the Worlds Fair of 1889, he became impressed by the contemporary art he saw there, especially the works of Gauguin, Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec. However, he had to return to Norway when his father died. Depressed, Edvard assumed financial-responsibility for what remained of the family..
Eventually Munch developed his own unique artistic style. It was based on introspection and self-reflection. Munch's subjects became the demons that haunted him - - death, insanity, his relationships with women, jealousy, loneliness, the isolation of modern life.
At first, Munch's works were derided by the established critics.. However, he slowly built up a favorable reputation among the avant garde, particularly during his stay in Berlin in 1892. After spending four years in Berlin, he moved to Paris where again the critics disapproved but the public crowded his exhibitions. With his first financial prosperity, he bought a summer house in Asgardstrand, Norway, which he called the “Happy House.”
But is was not a case of living happily ever after from that point on. Munch was a hard-drinker and frequently became involved in brawls. He had relationships that appeared promising but which always fell apart as he believed he had no right to marry given his worries about hereditary diseases and insanity. Eventually, all of this led to a nervous breakdown in 1908.
Following treatment in Copenhagen, Much returned to Norway. His attitude toward life had improved and his artistic focus shifted to landscapes and scenes of farm life.
He spent most of the rest of his life in seclusion on his Norwegian estate. When the Nazis occupied Norway in 1940, Munch's art was declared degenerate and subject to confiscation. Consequently, Munch had to hide his works and lived in fear of their discovery.. However, when Munch died in 1944, the Nazi government orchestrated the funeral so as to give the false impression that Munch had been one of their supporters.
The exhibition at the British Museum focuses on the period from the 1890s to the end of World War I. This was probably Munch's most productive period. It was also the period when Munch was most involved in printmaking.
Munch regarded his artworks as his children and hated to part with any of them. Therefore, a medium that allowed him to produce multiple copies of his images had an obvious appeal.
Prints also allowed his images to seen by a wider audience. To illustrate, Munch's best known image is “The Scream.” It is the subject of two paintings and two pastel drawings. However, the version that was distributed most widely during his lifetime and which made Munch internationally famous was the black and white print version.
As the exhibition documents, there is more to Munch than “The Scream.” His images are simple yet powerful. Although they are not happy pictures, they have a universal appeal because everyone has - - perhaps not to the same extent as Munch - - experienced at one time or another the emotions he depicts.
A self-portrait by Munch.
Above: Munch, "The Sick Child".
Below: Munch, "Two Women on the Shore"
Munch, "The Broach."