From the 28 June to the 14 October, the Tate Modern held an Edvard Munch exhibition. The exhibition brought together 60 of Munch’s paintings (mainly from Oslo), as well as some of his film and photography. You would have been sadly mistaken, as I was, if you expected to see Munch’s famous ‘The Scream’ as it wasn’t there: three of the paintings never leave Norway and the fourth sold recently for a staggering $120m, breaking the record for an artwork sold at auction.
Before entering, you were given a small guide to the exhibition which gives you some information about each room (there were also tour guide headsets on offer). In total, there were twelve rooms, each following a theme: medium as muse, reworkings, autobiography, optical space, on stage, compulsion, photography and portraiture, dematerialisation, amateur filmmaker, the outside world, the averted eye and unflinching gaze.
As the guide informed you, “Munch was born on 12 December 1863” and “[he] is often presented in the context of the 1880s and 1890s. However, the majority of his work was produced in the 20th century… His childhood was marked by ill-health and tragedy, as his mother and his beloved sister both died of tuberculosis”. You were really able to experience a great sense of this loss in some of Munch’s paintings. No better example can be found than in ‘The Sick Child’. What struck me about this painting, however, was not only the sense of loss and bereavement Munch imparts, but the way in which such loss and upset is felt more by the mother kneeling by the sick child’s side: arguably a reflection of the pain Munch still felt.
…shaped by emotional and psychological states…
The harrowing nature of the artwork put real meaning into the guide’s introduction to Munch’s influences: “Munch drew upon his anxieties and spiritual unrest, emphasising his own subject vision. His paintings, prints and drawings were shaped by emotional and psychological states rather than a conventionally naturalistic representation of the world.” After reading this and experiencing it for myself in his artworks, I became struck by the idea that in some way Munch’s art was an emotional and psychological outlet for him. I like to think, for example, that every time he redrew ‘The Sick Child’ (as he did many times, according to the guide, “to meet the demands of collectors”) this issue would resolve within himself a little more each time.
There was such a range of styles, mediums and themes to Munch’s works. From taking photos of himself at arm’s length, like someone may do with a modern-day camera phone, to my personal favourite ‘Worker’s on Their Way Home’ (a large oil painting with strong resonances to futurism), there was so much to see and think about. As I discovered, there’s far more to Munch than ‘The Scream’ and I would highly recommend going to one of his exhibitions, if you ever get the opportunity.