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Major Swiss Show stresses Munch's role as pathfinder of modern art

Major Swiss Show stresses Munch's role as pathfinder of modern art

Angst and anguish mark the life and work of Edvard Munch, who _ 10 years before his death _ said he was "born dying."
Munch's art is classed as immortal, however, and a new look at his oeuvre at a lavish Swiss show aims at giving fresh proof of its lasting influence on modern art.
Highlighting the Swiss art season, the exhibition is focusing on Munch's pioneering role as a founder of Expressionism through his free handling of color and revolutionary techniques.
The retrospective at the Beyeler Foundation museum covers all phases of the Norwegian's career. It ranges from a self-portrait he painted when he was just 20 to a woodcut he printed only a few weeks before he died at the age of 80.
Christoph Vitali, head of the Foundation, said the show is the largest and most important mounted outside Norway since Munch's death in 1944. Queen Sonja of Norway attended the opening of the exhibition, which is due to close July 17.
On view are 130 paintings and 80 drawings and graphics, some never seen before in public. Lenders include museums in the United States and Europe as well as more than 50 private collectors.
Loans came reluctantly because gunmen last August seized "The Scream," Munch's best-known picture, from Oslo's Munch museum as well as one of his "Madonna" paintings. Both were recovered four month's later and now are required to remain in Norway.
However, a prime key to Munch's haunting imagery is on display at the new show. It is the finest example of his early work recalling the fatal illness of his sister Sophie, who died when she was 15 and he 14. Ten years earlier, his mother had also succumbed to tuberculosis.
When the first version of the "The Sick Child" was shown in 1886 at an Oslo Fall Exhibition, it provoked an uproar among conservative critics because of Munch's unconventional style. One spoke of "incoherent color smudges."
At that time he had already begun experimenting with his scratching and scraping technique in which even the canvas structure can be part of the color composition.
Six years later, a larger Munch exhibition in Berlin caused a new scandal with the press condemning his pictures as ugly and unfinished. The show was closed after one week, leading to the formation of a secessionist group favoring art renewal. According to Dieter Buchart, curator of the Swiss show, the outrage added considerably to Munch's fame.
Late in 1893, Munch already won wide attention with a one-man Berlin exhibition that included the first paintings of what became known as "The Frieze of Life cycle. Among them were four images which are now part of the present show. Munch termed the cycle "a poem of life, love and death" and worked on it for most of his life.
The family tragedies left a deep impact on Munch's art. So did a breakup of a love affair in 1902. A gunshot wounded his left hand after he had restrained his partner from shooting herself.
"Without anxiety and illness, I would have been a rudderless ship," Munch once observed. Sometimes he turned to less disturbing motifs like "Girls on the Bridge," which makes a poster of the exhibition.
By the turn of the century he was already famous and had few problems selling his works. His output was huge as he also had turned to graphic art.
After a nervous breakdown blamed on alcoholism, Munch spent eight months in a Copenhagen psychiatric clinic in 1908-09. During this time he kept on painting and his fame continued to grow internationally. At the 1913 New York Armory show he had his own gallery.
Throughout his life, Munch worked on relatively few motifs. He often made variants of pictures he liked. "The Sick Child" was replicated by him in oil six times during 30 years. He produced 12 painted versions of the "Girls on the Bridge." In addition, he translated various paintings into colored lithographs.
He left many of his paintings outdoors, exposing them sometimes for years to sunshine, rain, snow, and bird droppings. He called this a "horse doctor's cure." Curator Buchart describes it as a central component of Munch's oeuvre that was aimed at improving the image. The idea was that the process would stress that things never last forever.
"To become a real Munch they have to have holes and scratches," he wrote a German collector who had complained about a scratched landscape. Munch also disliked the shine of heavy oil paint on his pictures and hoped that weathering would give them a matte surface.
Although demand was intense, Munch became increasingly reluctant to sell his works, keeping them at the farm complex on the outskirts of Oslo he had bought in 1916.
His will left all the city of Oslo, among them about 1,100 paintings and 18,000 graphics now in the Munch Museum.
As Munch kept most of his works to himself, market prices are high. In 1996 a lithograph of his "Madonna" series fetched 260,000 Swiss francs (now about US$210,000; euro155,000) in Switzerland and one of 12 painted versions of his "Girls on the Bridge" changed hands at a New York auction for US$7.7 million.
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On the Net:
http://www.beyeler.com/fondation/e/html_11sonderaus/29munch/01_i


Updated : 2021-03-01 10:08 GMT+08:00