Edvard Munch: Graphic Works from the Gunderson Collection
Extended introduction to troubled Norwegian painter
This article is from 2012.
Perhaps the greatest surprise for casual viewers of this high-profile new exhibition from the Scottish National Galleries is the discovery that Norwegian painter Edvard Munch had a whole catalogue of work besides ‘The Scream’. One of the most famous works of art ever is represented here, most will be pleased to know, with a lithograph (one of only two hand-coloured by the artist) which gives some impression of how the painting itself may look in person.
In truth, though, the often mimicked and parodied form of ‘The Scream’ – and the ghastly burnt-sky colouring and terror-stricken pinprick eyes are not as accentuated here – isn’t the most striking element of the show. Instead, it reflects upon the most discomforting aspects of Munch’s biography (childhood illness, premature death and madness amongst his siblings, fraught love affairs) to give context to the perfect sense of sinister melancholy infusing his works. In the bleak cynicism of ‘Vampire’, its title juxtaposed with what might be a comforting embrace from one lover to another, the sense of morbid disconnection in ‘Two Human Beings. The Lonely Ones’ and the pall of real mortal dread over ‘The Sick Child’ and ‘By the Death Bed’.
By its very nature this exhibition serves as an extended introduction to rather than a comprehensive overview of Munch’s work, what a furore on the Scotsman letters page referred to as an example of ‘extreme modernism’ following his 1931 debut UK solo show in Edinburgh, but the creased eyes or absent features of many of his characters still demonstrate a subtle hold over the most dramatic emotions.
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Two, Edinburgh, until Sun 23 Sep