I think I first saw a copy of this 1914 painting by Nikolai Astrup. I’m not clear.
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I started, as so often I do, with keeping a list of consumed culture. This petered out, so I am relying on memory.
2019 was Van Gogh and Rembrandt and Schiele and Munch.
Every year should be Munch year.
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I’m scrambling down a granite and grass hillside, increasingly realising that whilst this is path, it isn’t the path. I’m wary of checking the phone, because I’m at 70% of battery life and the cable is dying. Frankly the phone is dying. Somewhere to my right is a music festival, and I see cars and people passing by on the road I’m aiming for.
Harald Sohlberg: Painting Norway (Dulwich Picture Gallery)
Everyone knows The Scream, but Norway’s favourite painting is a remarkable nighttime mountainscape, by Harald Sohlberg. I’d been struck by his incredible yellow skies in paintings either side of doorways in Kode 3, just before the French Impression era Munch room, and again by his work at the Oslo National Museum, but he was still at number five in my top five Norwegian artists. Dulwich — who made me take notice of Nikolai Astrup — now brings Sohlberg to the UK, making it two Norwegian exhibitions at once.
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Edvard Munch, Love and Angst (British Museum)
This is a slice of Edvard Munch’s career — one of my top five favourite Norwegian artists — between about 1890 and 1910, which perhaps doesn’t make sense without knowing the rest of his career. For a start, there is a Norwegian habit of repeating the same motif in a way I’ve not seen with other artists other than Picasso. Munch has several paintings of Puberty or The Vampire, for example, and this raises questions about whether he is obsessively exploring a theme, seeking out the perfect version, displaying artistic unity or exploiting the design for maximum revenue. Or all of the above.
One of the most loved paintings in the world is Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss (1907-8), aka The Lovers. Sometimes I’m in agreement with this — Edvard Munich’s Scream and Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. It was bought by the Austrian Gallery before it was completed, originally shown at the Lower Belvedere and in the Upper Belvedere since then.
This canvas is nice, but it doesn’t quite do it for me. I saw a load of Klimt drawings alongside works by Egon Schiele at the Royal Academy of Arts, but Schiele won. He was, however, key to a generation of Viennese artists before the end of the First World War.
I didn’t go to Oslo just to see The Scream (1893), but it would have been worth it. I’ve seen a pen and ink version at Bergen, but this was the first time I’ve seen this version in the flesh – there’s a later, probably 1910, version supposedly at the Munch Museum (but it wasn’t on display) and the one owned by Petter Olsen and sold for $120,000,000 but we take this to be the original.
Eventually I’ll write about characteristic Edvard Munch, but I’m very struck by this (to my eyes) French-flavoured portrait, Morning (1884), in the Rastus Meyer Collection. We have a young woman, sat on the edge of a bed, mid dressing, gazing towards the window. The sitter is Thora Emilie Dalen (b. 1868) and she was painted by Munch when he was renting a room in Haugfoss. This was the painting that Munch was to exhibit in Paris and marks a breakthrough.
A couple of years ago I had about half an hour in the Rasmus Meyer Collection (aka KODE Three) to look at the Munchs. I knew The Scream, of course, which if memory serves is the painting destroyed in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (unless it was Melancholia) and of which I had an inflatable version. The collection — assembled by one of Munch’s first collectors — has a lithograph version, and it was great to see that. There were three other rooms, exclusively Munch.
I seem to be constructing a history of Norwegian painting, in part because I’ve failed to find a decent book. In part this is so I can understand Edvard Munch and Nikolai Astrup’s better. There’s a list of names in Øystein Loge’s Nikolai Astrup: Betrothed to Nature I need to follow up, but it might be interesting to see what I can construct myself.