Edvard Munch: Love and Angst at the British Museum
Exhibitions of work on paper sometimes feel a bit second-rate, as if the curators simply couldn’t get hold of enough paintings. Initially, it might feel like this is the case in the new Edvard Munch show at the British Museum, especially because the title doesn’t immediately reveal that this is an exhibition of prints. However, the curators make a convincing case for the importance of these works, and they certainly show another side of his practice to an audience who may be unfamiliar with much of Munch’s work beyond his famous Scream painting.
The exhibition shows that, far from being isolated in his home country of Norway, the subject was part of a wider European scene; he spent time in Berlin and Paris, and his works speak to some of the key concerns of Freudian theory, fin-de-siècle politics, and the symbolist and secessionist movements.
More than anything, Munch seems to have been adept at capturing mood – both the wider currents of thought in Europe and the nuances of relationships between individuals. Many of the pieces on show are gloomy and deeply pessimistic. Others are erotic or intensely intimate. Some of the latter, where they depict couples, are the most powerful in the show. The humanity, tenderness and lust are almost palpable.
Other works, though, are undeniably objectifying towards women. Two whole sections of the exhibition are dedicated to his passion for, and fear of, the female subject; his openly erotic compositions are described as being controversial, but primarily for their inclusion of imagery of sperm and foetuses, rather than because they are fundamentally misogynistic. It’s a shame that, in the current political climate, this challenging element of Munch’s work seems rushed over.
Nevertheless, there is much beauty to admire here, as well as some wonderfully passionate and moving depictions of ordinary people. Munch’s prints capture something of a zeitgeist, and they do so in a powerfully emotional way.
Featured Image: Edvard Munch, Vampire II, 1896. The Savings Bank Foundation DNB, on loan to Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Oslo
Edvard Munch: Love and Angst is at the British Museum from 11th April until 21st July 2019. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.