Edvard Munch: Graphic Works from the Gundersen Collection

June 2012

Publication: The Times

There’s something mildly unsettling and distasteful about the way so-called blockbuster exhibitions are accompanied by a slew of marketing paraphernalia: not only books and posters but all manner of things from mugs to mouse mats.  In this case anything that Norwegian has been signed up to the cause including books by Ibsen and music by Grieg. But all of this is overshadowed by the sheer ubiquitisness of Munch’s most fanous work which Munch entitled in German Der Schrei der Natur(The Scream of Nature) but which is now know popularly as Skrik in Norwegian and, in English, The Scream. An exhibition of Munch’s prints in Glasgow in 2009 employed similar tactics where again The Scream was used on all manner of marketing products, including an inflatable doll.

 

A version of the work, a lithograph on paper handcoloured by the artist, dating from 1895, is to be found here. Printed in Berlin by Liebmann, the work  also carries a German title, Geschrei. Compared to the much larger painted versions, the image here measures only 33cm x 21cm and is a simplified and stylised image, although it still carries the force and weight of the much more brilliantlt coloured painted versions. A German subtitle ‘Ich fuhlte das grosse Geschrei durch die Natur’ is inscribed below the image and forms part of several prose precursors to Munch’s imagery.

 

The author of the catalogue which accompanies the exhibition Ina Johannesen (who completed post graduate studies at St Andrews university) points out that  images and tex derive from an experience Munch had on Ekeberg hill outside Olso (then known as Kristiania). She quotes Munch’s text dated 22nd January 1892, written in Nice, France:

 

 I was walking along a road with two friends – the sun was setting – I seemed to sense a breath of melancholy - - suddenly the sky turned blood-red – I paused and leaned against the fence, feeling utterly exhausted – and looked out over clouds like blood and swords, the bluish black fiord and the city – My friends walked on – I stood there quivering with fear – and I felt a great, endless scream passing through nature.

 

For those who feel they know this work well (knowledge should not be confused with over-exposure) it is worth remmebering that the it records, in various stanges and version, the the real pain of a real person, in a an actual place at an actual time. The pain is not only that of the individual but about the way human suffereing is projected onto nature.

 

A similar compositional and emotional device is used by Much in another series of works ‘Towards the Forest completed in various versions between 1879 and 1915, and also in a version entitled The Lovers from 19? In earier versions the female figure is naked and in the later she is clothed, with red hair. The motif of maiden, which Munch assiated with sex, love and death is a familiar one through the Norwegian’s oeuvre. Here as in Skrik, he figures are the heart of the image, pulling the eye to the centre and downwards. They gaze into the forest, whci in its dark density symbloises an unknown future but for Munch, also a place of nature, as his spiritual reverence for trees and wood is palpable and explains to some extend his love of the wood cut as a printing medium.

 

As with offering a critique of any great artist one feels that the accpmplishment ans sheer genius of the work makes them unassailable while the sheer volume of writing about them makes further comment redundant.

 

This is a comparaitively modest collection bolstered by a number of loans and work from the NGS collection. But is a a wisely chosen collection which concentrates on graphic works (one assumes that Munch’s paintings are now unaffordable) which shows progression and variation.

 

AN interetsung footnote is the section of the show dealing with the inclusion of Munch’s work in the 1931 annual SSA exhibition in the first Uk showing of the Norwegian’s work. In all ?? works were chosen inluding ? and ?. There was a predictable furore in the letters page of The Scotsman (which interetinglu preceded a similar outpouring realting to Beuys when he shoed n Scotland for the first time 40 years later).

 

But far from being adventurous, as the SSA thought they were, they had actually finally cottoned on to Munch’s greatness (he was quite near the end of his life and career) at a time when his work was well known and had been exhibited all over Europe.

 

Munch’s work has stood the test of time however and still offers surprise and pleasures more than a century after most of it was completed