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Three things to pay additional attention at the Munch’s exhibition

Last spring, I had a chance to get closer to prints. Wonderful lectures by J. Roberts explored the history and various aspects of printmaking. The exhibition at the Heong Gallery featuring more than fifty screenprints was eyes opening on screenprinting challenges. Prints and multiples at Sotheby’s left me awe-inspiring while I was browsing through Goya’s ‘Los Caprichos’ and ‘Los Desastres’ series, 160 original etchings in total. So, just imagine me when I discovered that the British Museum was planning to open the exhibition on Munch’s prints. Absolute delight.

Visiting exhibition several times provides an opportunity to see the same works anew, focus attention on different parts of the setup, explore details, and linger in various spots to capture the mood and sense of the works. This is especially important in this exhibition, well planned and generous in material. Here are pieces of advice I could give if you are going to the exhibition.

- Take your time to look at etched plates and lithographic stones.

Reversal is a fundamental element of printing. Matrix, that is, etched plate or lithographic stone, and print have a special relationship. Matrix stays behind, vanishing from the scene of art history, and print occupies the attention. However, Munch had a habit to collect his plates from the master printers for reuse, and we are able to see some of the plates on the display alongside the prints. It is easier to admire the print on the very thin paper, when you know it had to withstand heaviness of stone.

- Compare themes through different medium.

Munch has investigated the same themes of love and jealousy, loneliness and anxiety, sickness and death throughout his career. He kept redoing, reinventing, but not repeating. Actually, his famous ‘The Scream’ exists in several versions. Tempera on cardboard, 1893, The Oslo National Gallery (stolen in 1994, recovered in three months); crayon on cardboard, 1893, The Munch Museum; pastel on cardboard, 1895, private collection (sold for nearly $120M, making it the most expensive artwork sold at the auction at the time), tempera on cardboard, 1910, The Munch Museum (the Munch Museum’s replica, stolen in 2004, recovered in 2006). Munch also made a lithograph stone of ‘The Scream’, and it is estimated that there were around 45 prints made. See the list of Munch’s ‘Scream’s.

Another example in exploration different medium is based on the memory of his sister Sophie’s death from tuberculosis (Munch himself was hypochondriac, lived for 80 years). The title ‘The Sick Child’ is given to a group of six paintings (first, fourth) and a number of lithographs, drypoints and etchings. Different versions of ‘The Sick Child’ are placed in the exhibition. See the play of reversal, as prints require the inversion of the initially planned painting setup.

Varying techniques allowed Munch to achieve a sense of essence, to distil complex emotions into universal symbols.

- Try to dissemble colours in prints.

The process of creating colourful prints requires careful planning and patience. In Munch’s case it is fundamentally like a jigsaw puzzle: he cut woodblocks in order to ink them in sections and then arrange them to be printed. This enhanced the sense of isolation and abstraction of the figures, and the additional pattern of wood grain gave an indication of primordial significance. In the exhibition, different impressions of ‘Towards the Forest’ allows to grasp the principle of this technique, the artistic process and motifs.

More than this, Munch combined different techniques to colour his prints. For example, the edition of ‘Madonna’ comes in approximately 150, in several colour and compositional variations via lithograph and woodcut. In this case of colouring prints, the crucial aspect is layering.

How much of the invisible labour was done while contemplating the narrative, engaging the core emotions and mastering technicalities to produce long lasting meaning in the works?

Three weeks are left to see this exhibition. Time to pack your bag and go. :)


- A Proper review

- Virtual Tour

- Catalogue of the Masterworks of Edward Munch, 1979, from an exhibition organized by the National Gallery of Art

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