Edvard Munch: The big 150

It’s the 150th anniversary year of Edvard Munch’s birthday, and, as is customary these days, the city and country he was born in are in a celebratory mood. They are deservedly proud of his genius, his contribution to art and his legacy.
Born in Oslo, Norway, on December 12th 1863, Munch is, by far, the Scandinavian nation’s most famous artistic son, best known throughout the world for his expressionistic masterpiece The Scream.
Events get properly underway in June, which sees the capital open its most comprehensive exhibition to date of his art: some 270 works executed throughout his life will be on show.
Due to the scale of the exhibition and the want for a collaborative effort, it is being held across two establishments – the Munch Museum and the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design.
It is much more than a celebration though, says Stein Olav Henrichsen, director of the Munch Museum. It’s about “expanding knowledge, curiosity and enthusiasm” for his work and his life. As last year’s Tate Modern exhibition highlighted, he was so much more than just his most famous creation.
“Munch is solidly place in the canon of modernism with works like The Scream and The Sun [another timeless piece],” continues Audun Eckhoff, director of the National Museum.
We’ve taken a fresh look at his response to modernistic issues, such as the relationship between art and reality, the position of the individual in the world, the modern role of the artist and art’s impact on the public.”
The breathtaking exhibition spans an astonishing 60 years – an epochal split across the two museums (1882-1903 and 1904-1944) – and though chronological in nature, it does include thematic presentations.
So, while it is wonderful to observe how Munch’s style evolved throughout his life, visitors can also see how he himself changed – and how it was reflected in his painting – as well as get an idea of the recurring and reworked motifs that he could not ignore.
“Munch didn’t just paint nasty things: it got into the way he painted too, even – perhaps especially – when he painted himself,” the Guardian’s art critic Adrian Searle said last year.
“Unsparing, Munch portrayed himself sick with the Spanish flu, drunk and with the bottles rearing up at him, ill and old and alone, sunken-faced, maundering around a darkened house. He turned himself into a character: melancholy Munch, a man beset by miseries, alcoholism, his own fame and fortune, his conspicuously wayward talent and his endless personal troubles.”
Munch never found life easy. It might have been a result of his overly pious father’s religious rhetoric during his youth or his later, self-diagnosed madness, but whatever the root cause, it was the only existence he knew, and for better or worse, he painted as a way of understanding, surviving and medicating his disquiet.
Fascinating, yes, but a little too forlorn for a celebration. Consider also then, that this as a show that revels in the human need to create.
“A lot of doubt is evident in Munch’s paintings – doubt and an almost childlike urge to experiment,” explains Nils Ohlsen, director of old masters and modern art at the National Museum.
“Munch is feeling his way along, time and again. He’s perpetually showing his creative process. He uses the picture. Not just to present a story or a condition, but also to show how creativity happens — how difficult and how fun it is.”
Munch 150 at the Munch Museum and the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design runs from June 2nd until October 13th 2013.
Cadogan Tate can ship works of art from New York to most destinations around the world.