Munch paintings in first UK showing

8 min


Courtauld hosts important collection

One of the most important collections of paintings by Edvard Munch is now on display in the UK for the first time at The Courtauld Gallery in London.

‘The Morgan Stanley Exhibition: Edvard Munch. Masterpieces from Bergen’ showcases 18 seminal works by Munch. 

They are on loan from KODE Art Museums in Bergen, Norway which is home to one of the most important Munch collections in the world. 

The exhibition follows ‘The Morgan Stanley Exhibition: Van Gogh. Self-Portraits’ which was one of the most highly-attended exhibitions in The Courtauld’s history.

Seen together for the first time outside of Scandinavia, the collection presents an exceptional overview of Munch’s development as an artist.

They provide a rich and comprehensive account of his journey from the early breakthrough pictures of the 1880s, which launched his career, through to the expressive and psychologically charged works of the 1890s. 

‘We are so excited to welcome visitors to this spectacular exhibition of Edvard Munch paintings, many of which have never been in the United Kingdom before,’ says Professor Deborah Swallow, Märit Rausing Director of The Courtauld.

‘Our recently closed exhibition Van Gogh. Self-Portraits, one of the most successful in the history of The Courtauld Gallery, saw us work with partner organisations all over the world to achieve a show-stopping exhibition.’ 

‘I am delighted that we have been able to continue this collaborative approach by working with KODE, one of Norway’s most significant artistic institutions, to create an exhibition which will capture the imagination of visitors. I’d like to thank them once more for their support.’

‘I would also like to thank our Founding Partner Morgan Stanley, and our supporters the AKO Foundation and the Huo Family Foundation most warmly for making this exhibition possible.’

‘Remarkable collection’

The remarkable collection was formed at the beginning of the 20th century by Norwegian industrialist and philanthropist Rasmus Meyer (1858-1916). 

An early champion of Munch’s work, Meyer knew the artist personally. He astutely acquired major canvases charting the development of the painter’s unique expressive style that marks Munch as one of the most radical painters of the 20th century. 

Edvard Munch, (1863-1944), Spring Day on Karl Johan, 1890, KODE Art Museums, Bergen, Norway.

At the time of Meyer’s death in 1916, the canvases encompassed what was then the most comprehensive documentation of Norwegian contemporary art in any collection – and the largest single group of works by Edvard Munch. 

The collection was gifted to the city of Bergen in 1916, and housed since 1924 in a purpose-built gallery in the heart of Bergen, part of KODE Art Museums and Composer Homes.

The exhibition at The Courtauld begins with important early paintings from the 1880s, when Munch was drawing on social realism, Naturalist techniques, and the legacy of French Impressionism to create his own style. 

This is exemplified by the artist’s first major work, Morning (1884), painted when he was just twenty years old. 

Despite being controversial at the time for its unconventional style and its intimate subject, the picture helped to establish Munch’s critical and public recognition as a modern painter and was exhibited at the Paris World Fair in 1889.

‘Summer Night’

Another early highlight in the exhibition is Munch’s large-scale canvas ‘Summer Night. Inger on the Beach (1889).’ This is a powerful and evocative depiction of his sister Inger sitting by the shoreline of a fjord. 

Edvard Munch, (1863-1944), Summer Night. Inger on the Beach, 1889, KODE Art Museums, Bergen, Norway.

The pivotal work has long been celebrated as the painting with which Munch found his artistic voice. ‘Summer Night’ marks his move towards the expressive and psychologically charged output for which he became famous.

These early paintings launched Munch’s career in Norway – and internationally. They set the stage for his ground-breaking paintings of the 1890s. This was a time when his compositions became powerful projections of his emotions and psychological state. 

‘This is an unprecedented opportunity to see the major works from one of the world’s great collections of paintings by Edvard Munch,’ says Dr. Barnaby Wright, curator of the exhibition.

‘Remarkable paintings from the famous ‘Frieze of Life’ series will undoubtedly be highlights, but I think visitors will also find Munch’s seminal early paintings extraordinary, if less familiar.’

‘Munch is one of the most influential artists of the modern period and is still a touchstone for leading artists today. He was in turn influenced by the major Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists represented in The Courtauld Gallery’s iconic collection.’ 

‘The Morgan Stanley Exhibition: Edvard Munch. Masterpieces from Bergen represents a fantastic opportunity for visitors to see Munch’s work within the context of these famous artists who were so important to him in his formative years.’

Instantly recognisable

Major examples of these 1890s works form the larger part of the exhibition. Instantly recognisable by Munch’s highly expressive handling of paint and rich colour, they include remarkable canvases from the artist’s famous ‘Frieze of Life’ series.

These include ‘Evening on Karl Johan’ (1892), ‘Melancholy’ (1894-96) and ‘By the Death Bed’ (1895).

Munch’s ‘Frieze of Life’ canvases were intended to address profound themes of human existence, from love and desire to anxiety and death. 

The artist used his own experiences as source material to create visceral depictions of the human psyche, which he hoped would help others understand their own life. 

Munch’s ambition to create paintings which operated on a deeply emotional and psychological level, marked him out as one of the most distinctive voices of modern art at the turn of the 20th century.

The exhibition also includes Self-Portrait in the Clinic (1909), one of Munch’s most impressive and introspective self-portraits. It was painted when he was undergoing treatment for emotional stress in Copenhagen. 

This powerful work marked a significant and lasting shift in Munch’s style, as he adopted a brighter palette and started applying paint with loose, jagged brushstrokes that left parts of the canvas visible. 

Masterpieces from Bergen

Munch deployed this new approach to remarkable effect in Youth (1908) which was one of the paintings Meyer acquired directly from the artist. 

Its near-life sized depiction of a naked young man on the beach is full of a renewed sense of vitality that characterised Munch’s work at this time.

‘Edvard Munch. Masterpieces from Bergen’ is presented in The Courtauld’s Denise Coates Exhibition Galleries and is the second in The Morgan Stanley Series of temporary exhibitions at The Courtauld. 

Edvard Munch, (1863-1944), Four Stages of Life, 1902, KODE Art Museums, Bergen, Norway.

‘Last summer, The Courtauld´s masterpieces by Paul Cézanne was exhibited in Bergen, to great acclaim,’ says Petter Snare, Director of KODE. ‘I think I can speak on behalf of myself as well as the Bergen public that we are thrilled to return the favour.’

‘With the Munch collection there is also the story of the collector Rasmus Meyer, and this collaboration between The Courtauld and KODE is in recognition of the importance of visionary collectors to today’s museums.’

‘Morgan Stanley is delighted to partner with The Courtauld on Edvard Munch: Masterpieces from Bergen, the second in The Morgan Stanley Series of major exhibitions at the gallery,’ says Franck Petitgas, Head of International for Morgan Stanley.  

‘The rich collaboration between The Courtauld and the KODE Art Museum brings this thought-provoking exhibition to the UK for the first time and provides an unprecedented opportunity to experience one of the world’s most important collections of Edvard Munch’s paintings.’

‘The AKO Foundation has a profound and long-standing interest in promoting greater access to, and understanding of, Nordic art,’ says Philip Lawford, CEO of the AKO Foundation.  

‘We are therefore delighted to be able to support this exhibition, which will give the UK public a unique opportunity to experience some of Munch’s most important works.’

The Huo Family Foundation says it’s thrilled to be sponsoring the Edvard Munch exhibition. They say they hope it gives the public ‘an opportunity to witness magnificent work by an artist whose pieces are truly awe-inspiring.’

Impressionism and Post-Impressionism

The Courtauld’s permanent collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces, on display in the adjacent newly refurbished LVMH Great Room, provide rich context for the exhibition.  

They reveal some of the artistic inspirations Munch encountered during his experimental years in Paris from 1889 – 1892, where he discovered the modern styles of Gauguin, Toulouse Lautrec and Van Gogh.

The exhibition is the result of a partnership which saw The Courtauld and KODE presenting Paul Cézanne: Masterpieces from The Courtauld in Bergen in 2021.

‘The Morgan Stanley Exhibition: Edvard Munch. Masterpieces from Bergen’ is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with contributions from experts from KODE and The Courtauld.

This exhibition is sponsored by Morgan Stanley, and supported by the AKO Foundation, with additional support from the Huo Family Foundation.

The exhibition runs until 4 September. The Courtauld is based on The Strand, London. It is open from 1000 to 1800 (last entry at 1715).

Images supplied courtesy of The Courtauld.

Main Featured Image: Edvard Munch, (1863-1944), Children Playing in the Street in Asgardstrand, 1901 – 1903, KODE Art Museums, Bergen, Norway.

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