Large parts of the Munch collection have never been displayed in recent times. When the new Munch Museum opens in Oslo next year, old treasures from the Edvard Munch collection will be brought out of the vaults.
Among them are also sketches showing how “The Scream” looked before the world-famous version. Though the Norwegian artist is known for a single image, he was one of the most prolific, innovative and influential figures in modern art.
“The Scream quickly became a symbol of modern malaise after it was first painted in 1893. However, Edvard Munch made three more versions by 1910, one of which would go on to sell for a record-breaking $119.9 million at Sotheby’s in 2012.
The Munch Museum Oslo’s Collection
The museum’s collection of Edvard Munch’s art counts over 25,000 works, of which well over half are collected at the Munch Museum at Tøyen in Oslo. When Edvard Munch, Norway’s only artist of international format, died in 1944 at the age of 80, it became known that he had bequeathed everything he owned to the City of Oslo. An intricate handwriting from 18 April 1940, proves that Edvard Munch leaves his entire art collection to Oslo municipality. Behind locked doors on the second floor of his house, the authorities discovered the document.
Some years ago, the museum also gathered pictures of all the artist’s drawings in a new database which now have been published for unrestricted use.
His paintings were his children
Born in December 12, 1863 near rural Løten, Norway, the artist experienced a long and prolific career. Edvard Munch never married and hated to be separated from his paintings which he called his children. The last 27 years of his life he lived alone on his estate outside Oslo, increasingly revered and increasingly isolated. He surrounded himself with work that dated to the start of his long career.
The City of Oslo inherited 1,100 paintings, 15,500 prints, 4,700 drawings and six sculptures. Woodcuts, etchings, lithographs, lithographic stones, woodcut blocks, copperplates, notebooks, documents, photographs, tools, supplies and furniture were also part of the legacy. Edvard Munch’s reputation as one of the greatest visual artists in art history makes the collection unique.
A tragic childhood
The first years of Edvard’s life were a tragedy. His mother died from tuberculosis in 1868, when he was just five years old. His older sister, Sophia, died from the same disease nine years later. But life had to go on and initially he trained as an engineer at the Royal Technical College in Kristiania (now Oslo). After a year he dropped out to become a painter instead. He studied at the Kristiania Royal School of Art and Design, and in 1883 he made his debut at a local Industry and Art Exhibition. With financial support from his community, he managed to exhibit in Antwerp and study in Paris in his early twenties.
Edvard Munch, the artist
From 1892 to 1896, Munch lived in Berlin. The city’s intellectual community, which included Swedish playwright August Strindberg and Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland, furthered his interest in exploring the joys and disappointments of love. In 1906, Munch even painted a posthumous portrait of famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, whose nihilist beliefs coincide with the Scream’s depiction of existential dread.
The artist’s father, a military physician, passed away in 1889. So, it is understandable that much of Munch’s work focuses on loss. “The Sick Child” (1885) for instance shows a woman kneeling at the bedside of a pale, red-haired girl, appearing to mourn an impending death.
Related: The Munch Museum in Oslo
Days and nights among artists
In the book “Days and nights amongst artists”, Christian Skredsvig, artist and a friend of Edvard Munch, describes how Munch became frustrated by how people would only notice the clouds in his pictures and not the anxiety:
«He had long wanted to paint his memory of a sunset, red as blood. No, it was clotted blood. But no one would feel the same way as him. Everyone would think of clouds. He spoke with great sadness about this event that had struck him with fear. Sadness, because the means of art were inadequate…» wrote Skredsvig.
Munch wrote extensively
“My fear of life is necessary to me, as is my illness,” Edvard Munch once wrote. “Without anxiety and illness, I am a ship without a rudder….My sufferings are part of myself and my art. They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art.” Much of Munch’s work can be seen as self-portraiture.
Munch wrote extensively on what was perhaps his favorite subject: himself. He penned some 13,000 pages of autobiographical notes, novel and short story fragments, prose, poems, correspondence, and meditations on art. Munch’s melancholy writings often focused on the same topics as many of his paintings: nature, isolation, and longing.
“Death at the helm” (1803) is one of Munch’s lesser-known motives, despite being painted the same year as “The Scream.” Nevertheless, the painting has thematic commonalities. Munch defined how we see our own age—wracked with anxiety and uncertainty.
The Edvard Munch Collection Out of the Vaults in Oslo
The new Munch Museum makes it possible to display a larger part of the artist’s collection for national and international audiences. An inspiration has been the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which has contributed a lot to Van Gogh’s fame.
The new Munch Museum will consist of three parts, one with permanent and changing exhibitions of Munch’s art, one with heavily relevant exhibitions by Munch’s contemporary artist colleagues and one with contemporary art by the model of the Stenersen Museum in Oslo.
The passionate museum director Stein-Olav Henrichen says that everything Edvard Munch ever created will be on display at the new museum – but of course not simultaneously.
The Edvard Munch Collection Out of the Vaults in Oslo, written by Tor Kjolberg