More Than A Scream: Edvard Munch: Masterpieces From Bergen @ The Courtauld Gallery, London
The scream. The dark colours. The distorted ghostly faces. Think you know Munch? Well with this exhibition, think again!
There was colour, light, delicate Impressionism, almost Gauguin-like at times. The huge shame of it all is that the critics didn’t get his early works and ridiculed him. It’s not ‘bizarro’ but beautiful.
The image of his sister squinting into the sun, wearing a jaunty straw hat was the first shock. Light, colour, beauty and the many and varied blues. I got lost in the light and textures; the clouds.
A portrait, of a working woman perhaps. A servant? We don’t know, but the capture of this moment of time, the light especially coming through the glass by her beside, her dreams, the lustrous hair. It’s so delicately done.
This Fauve like composition tells a hidden story — a woman waits for a man, shadowing falling. What happens next? But the colours, shapes and textures glow!
Possibly the four ages of woman, but I just like the jaunty, chirpy girl in her vibrant red hat and optimistic face. He wasn’t very kind to older women in his depictions — skeletons???
All kinds of psychological meanings have been read into this work. I just see a curious girl interrupted at her play (or perhaps left in charge of her younger brothers play). The Alice in Wonderland look is great — is she in search of an adventure, or a white rabbit? (and giving a direct look as only small children, especially little girls, can do. A ‘who might you be?’ moment).
This was my ‘wow’ image. The Seurat like details. The bustling flow of people. The heat radiating off the work of a hot summer’s day. The red parasols. The charming details of promenading hats, bonnets, parasols, prams — the people all busy enjoying themselves, as well as those seeking shade. Again, the colours, the happiness, the delicacy of the work.
Much was made of the strangeness of his landscape and ‘moons’ — but I just see the glare of rapidly changing light, perhaps a sunset and the shadows changing the shape of the rocky beach. It’s beautiful and somewhat mystical. Definitely inventing the ‘Golden Hour’ here.
A Manet moment for Munch here — again joy observed, the light, colour and sheer happiness of bathing. A moment captured, the fluidity of time passing quickly in the strokes and colours used.
As well as not being understood or appreciated by critics, Munch also had a terribly sad life; a sister and later his mother both died of TB; his father sought answers in faith and perhaps missing his wife and lacking her guiding hand, sought to connect with his children through reading tales like Edgar Alan Poe (the scarier and spiritual equivalent of Dad rough and tumble games which always end in tears and a bumped head). Munch struggled to get started, to be an artist — in a grieving, devastated household feeling loss; he struggled to connect with women and sought answers in alcohol and bohemianism. Unlike Van Gogh, he didn’t seem to be able to use his art for healing; instead he used it to expose the emotions hidden under the surface — producing miserable looking skeletons and terrible pictures of grief, loss and anxiety. But at the same time he was doing something that had never been seen before — the reverse of Alphonse Mucha’s beauty and celebratory jollity — exposing the deep pain, alienation and sorrows of life. Contrastingly, there are also warmer emotions such as his sister (again, with her hat) on some rocks on a sunny day. It’s reflective, but cheerful, especially with the light on and texture of the rocks, and the sensual movement of the water behind her. You can just feel it, taste it, touch it — what a lovely day! (and in a sense we are given a private snapshot of his sister’s thoughts too).
The painter himself — it’s like Van Gogh, so textured and with enjoyable stripes of colour, creating light and movement. But also moving as he was unwell at the time.
Not such a fan of his later works, but this may be because of the dramatic contrast with his earlier brighter works and I just haven’t seen enough of them beyond The Scream. He was courageous to paint his dead sister in her coffin and his family gathered to mourn — the grief and emotions of such a personal work. A street scene — a mass of walking corpses — is literal Ecclesiastes, that all this bustling, busy purpose in life seems to meaningless and yet, by Munch’s very work, he shows that there is meaning and purpose, that emotions, especially the hidden thoughts and emotions, the spirit, are vital to humanity’s being humanity. (There is still a jaunty hat with a ribbon, even as a zombie like pedestrian looms and lurches towards the viewer).