I love art and I feel so fortunate that I now live in Oslo, where there is a vast collection of art museums and galleries to visit! Last weekend, I visited the Munch museum in Tøyen, a visit you got a sneak peak into in this post. Only a small selection of Munch’s art was actucally on display at this particular time, as the museum is preparing for the highly anticipated Van Gogh + Munch exhibition that opens on May 9th.
Still, the carefully selected paintings that were on show took us through Munch’s entire career, from starting out at art school in Oslo in the 1880s to developing his unique style in Paris and Berlin, and later settling down at Ekely just outside Kristiania (Oslo) in 1916. In addition, the highly knowledgable guide gave us plenty of information about Munch’s life and career so it felt that we were taken on a private tour through Munch’s life!
The small selection of paintings that were on show on this particular Sunday were hung in a museum hall that is normally closed to the public. The walls in the room are adorned with three huge paintings that are either sketches or disgarded paintings made specifically for the University Hall in Oslo. Munch won a competition to decorate the hall in 1909 and completed the last of the three pieces in 1916. This was the only major public commission work that Munch received in his career.
The largest paiting, The researchers, depicts mother Earth looking after her young children who are busy exploring life on the beach. This painting measures an incredible 55 m2. A variation of this painting, Alma Mater, hangs in the University Hall today.
The smaller painting is called The human mountain and its controversial topic of people struggling to make it up the mountain of life, some dying in the attempt, was considered too strong to be on display in the University.
Munch then painted The sun, finished in 1911, of which this particular painting is an unfinished sketch. The completed piece is on display in the University Hall.
Munch actually painted these large paintings outside. He would hang the paintings up on a wall and use a tall ladder to reach up. Often, parts of the painting would drag on the ground, where both rain and snow would mess up the paint. Munch wanted mother nature to make its mark on his artwork!
At his home in Ekely, Munch had built permanent outdoor studios, where he would paint his larger works.
A collection of Munch’s earliest paintings, both in styles of Realism and later his own style of Expressionism
When Munch started out, he was taught the Naturalism (Realism) painting method. The paintings of his father and aunt (top and bottom right in the photograph above) where created after he had attended a one year art school in Norway in the late 1880s. At the time, only well-known artists had their own exhibitions. Wanting to break through, in 1889 Munch paid for his own solo exhibition in Kristiania (Oslo). Having his own show gave the illusion that he was a much larger artist than he really was, and the government was persuaded to provide his funding for a two-year art school in Paris.
The women on the bridge (1934-40)
While in Paris, Munch started developing his own destinct style, using rough brush strokes on an unprepared canvas, not finishing the painting all the way out to the edges. He was also very expressive in his choice of themes, choosing to paint all aspects of life, including grief and sadness, longing and madness.
After Paris, Munch moved to Berlin, where he in 1892 was invited to display his works at the Verein Berliner Künstler. Quickly referred to as “the scandal exhibition”, his work was not well received and the exhibition had to be closed after only one week.
Four girls in Åsgårdstrand (1923)
The public was really keen too come and see what the scandal was all about, however, and never known to miss a business opportunity, Munch ran his own art exhibitions in several cities in Europe, making a nice profit from the entrance fees, despite not selling any paintings!
Gradually, Munch’s art gained a large following. In the period from 1892 to 1908, his work was seen as having had a crucial impact on the development of Modernism, expecially Expressionism. Sadly, in 1908 Munch had a nervous breakdown following his abuse of alcohol combined with a restless lifestyle. He checked himself into a private clinic in Copenhagen, where he stayed for eight months, a place where he could both paint and be under treatment. The same year he received The Royal order of St. Olav, a prestigious Norwegian award.
Self portrait with hands in pocket (1923-26)
Munch painted The frieze of life, as the three paintings for the University Hall were called, in 1909-1916. In 1916, Munch purchased Ekely, a large property outside Kristiania. In the period that followed, Munch gained considerable international recognition and ran several exhibitions in Germany. He continued to produce art throughout this life, both commissioned portraits as well as his own work. On January 23rd, 1944, Munch died peacefully at his home Ekely, a rather wealthy man. Upon his death, he donated his entire catalogue of work to the City of Oslo, including an impressive 1.100 paintings, 18.000 prints, 4.500 watercolours and drawings, 6 sculptures and 92 sketch books!
Munch at home in Ekely, where paintings covered every inch of wallspace. He wasn’t known to focus on interior design…