Edvard Munch: Love and Angst exhibition at the British Museum
Written by Natalia Puchalska, International Training Programme; Communications Volunteer
Despite wide recognition of his works, Edvard Munch still remains a mystery for many. This April, the British Museum in collaboration with the Munch Museum in Oslo has opened its blockbuster Edvard Munch: Love and Angst exhibition, giving us more insight into the artist’s life. The show looks at the artist’s body of work and examines his ability to navigate between various artistic mediums. Aside from the technical and aesthetic qualities of the presented works, the curators highlighted other aspects of Munch’s oeuvre, turning the show into a firsthand testimony of the artist’s life and experience. As the catalogue entry informs us “Looking at the cities of pre-war Oslo, Berlin and Paris, the exhibition shows how new ideas about personal and political independence gave rise to an important voice. Visceral, rebellious and hungry for new experiences, Munch rejected his strict Lutheran upbringing to pursue an unconventional lifestyle. He travelled across Europe, drawing artistic inspiration from the bohemian circles he encountered and his passionate love affairs. Munch’s work articulated his experiences of life in a rapidly changing Europe, that was to be shattered by the first global industrialised conflict”.
Munch’s experimental and frequently bold prints reveal a universal language of despair and torment, subjects which resonated in pre-war Europe and its artistic circles. The artist expresses this mood of melancholy and hopelessness already with the first print displayed, Self-portrait with a Skeleton Arm from 1895.
The printed version of The Scream has been the indisputable star of the exhibition. Interestingly, this lithograph (1895), made two years after the famous paintings of the same title, brought Munch international fame and established his reputation as an artist. Ever since, this timeless, emotionally charged piece has regarded as a universal symbol of human anxiety and despair. Though, as the exhibition’s labels explain, the work is a deeply personal response to the artist’s upbringing and experience as a young artist rather than a voice of a generation.
The exhibited sketch of Despair, made prior to The Scream, focuses on the moment of isolation the artist’s felt just before ‘the scream ripped through nature’. Munch described this experience: ‘I paused feeling exhausted and leaned on the fence […] My friends walked on and I stood there trembling with anxiety’.
Despite the prevailing ‘dark’ subject matter, the techniques, colours and compositions incorporated into Munch’s prints are utterly vibrant and dynamic. This can be evidenced in the works such as The Kiss, Madonna or Przybyszewski.
Without a doubt, Edvard Munch: Love and Angst is a great example of how individual experiences of an artist can be recast as universal truths. It also proves Munch’s masterful abilities to convey subjects as abstract as emotions. As Jonathan Jones, in his review for the Guardian, remarks ‘This is an exhibition that shows why we need art. How else can we hear each other scream’?
We are looking forward to giving our ITP Fellows 2019 the opportunity to see the show and to sharing their thoughts on the exhibition.
Edvard Munch: Love and Angst
11 April – 21 July 2019