Edvard Munch<br/>
Norwegian 1863-1944<br/>
<em>Anxiety</em> 1894<br/>
oil on canvas<br/>
94.0 x 74.0 cm<br/>
Munch-museet, Oslo (M 515)<br/>
© Munch-Ellingsen Group/BONO<br/>
© Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney 2004

Edvard Munch

The Frieze of Life

NGV International

13 Oct 04 – 12 Jan 05

This, the first comprehensive exhibition of Edvard Munch’s art in Australia, assembles more than 80 works from across the artist’s entire oeuvre – including paintings, prints, drawings, and watercolours. Some of these will constitute the seminal and well-known images of Munch’s early maturity, whilst the greater part will introduce a substantial body of work made from the early 1900s until shortly before his death – which is largely unknown here.

Perhaps more than any other artist, Edvard Munch has given shape to the inner life and psyche of modern man and is thus a precursor in the development of modern psychology. His images of existential dread, anxiety, loneliness and the complex emotions of human sexuality have become icons of our era. Most of us in the Western world know such images as The Scream, Anxiety, Jealousy, The Kiss, Madonna, Vampire, The Dance of Life. Munch developed these great themes of Angst, Love, Sex and Death during the 1890s – a project he called the Frieze of Life – and to which he returned at the end of his life. These themes and the signature images will be represented in the exhibition by a few key paintings and a substantial number of prints and, in addition, some drawings which amplify the motifs and demonstrate their evolution in Munch’s thinking. Together this group of images will constitute about half the exhibition – the ‘known’ Munch.

In 1908, following a period of emotional crisis, Munch suffered a nervous breakdown which necessitated a period of hospitalisation. After his recovery there was a significant change in his art – despite the frequent revisiting of his ‘Frieze of Life’ themes. With a few exceptions, a lyrical quality and calmer mood is evident in his painting and increasingly he turns to themes and subjects drawn from the external world: landscapes, portraiture and self-portraiture, figure studies – nudes, bathers – including heroic themes of labour. While Munch continued to make prints, these were largely re-workings of earlier subjects and ceased to be as innovative as the earlier work. Photography becomes a more integrated and exploratory means within his work – but, principally, he was occupied with painting. His painterly style becomes extraordinarily free, fluid and expressive – and often summary, in ways that seem surprisingly contemporary. There is a rich variety of imagery and mood in the work of his last three decades.

The latter part of the exhibition elects to concentrate on a few thematic groupings of these paintings: Landscapes, Portraits, Self-Portraits, and Nudes, Bathers and Figure Studies. While the works in this half of the exhibition (which constitute the ‘unknown’ Munch) have been selected in order to form coherent groupings, there are many connecting threads, ideas and echoes between these groups and to the ‘Frieze of Life’ works in the first part of the exhibition.