Experience Munch’s modern eye

This is Tate’s blockbuster exhibition, mainly from the Munch museum in Oslo, and it is a must see – book your ticket ASAP, it ends this weekend. The Tate’s curator called it ‘Edward Munch: The Modern Eye’ to highlight Munch’s fascination with and inspiration by modern life, and away from his image as a symbolic painter and his association with despair as the painter of the iconic Scream. The central element of Munch’s Frieze of Life series, The Scream is not in the exhibition (and speaking of The Scream, the only one of the four versions which is in private hands was sold in May. Mr BB and I luckily saw it in the Sotheby’s sale preview: distinguishing it from the three other versions is the original frame, hand-painted by Munch. It had its own room and security in Sotheby’s viewing rooms).

Going back to the exhibition, I would not be original in saying I loved ‘The Kiss’, where a man and a woman’s faces merge together when kissing, illustrating passionate love. Similarly intense, in ‘Vampire’ a red-hair woman kisses (or bites) a man’s neck; her hair can be seen as blood, showing love and pain together. We discover in the same room that Munch likes painting in series and would paint the same theme several times.

In the following room, a notable piece is one where Munch painted himself on an operating table. The story behind the painting is an altercation with his former mistress who kept a gun in her apartment; Munch ended up with his hand injured and interestingly, he refused to have an anaesthetic for his surgery – more on that later. The picture hung nearby of a yellow log has a similar perspective (with the yellow log as Munch’s body). Several paintings in the room show a person in the foreground using a cinema-like distortion, showing the cinema’s influence on Munch’s works. An (amateur) movie made by Munch is also shown in the exhibition.

Selected Munch’s stage works are shown, which reminded me of works by the French artist Vuillard due to the wall motifs. One of the highlights of the exhibition is Munch’s ‘Starry night’, showing the view from the artist’s studio in Ekely, on the outskirts of Oslo, conveying melancholy and loneliness by Munch’s shadow. An not particular exciting series at first stance but very interesting when looking closer is the series of works that Munch painted when having an eye problem. He depicted what he was seeing with his eye blurred vision. So we see life scenes with spots or a bird-shape on the foreground, seeing through Munch’s eyes. Another reference to the exhibition’s title? Again, Munch refused anaesthetic for his eye surgery.

The last room is filled with Munch’s end-of-life self-portraits, reporting his experience waiting for death. What struck me in Munch is his willingness to experience and to document his experiences via painting, whether it is pain when he refuses anaesthetic or his waiting for death. He even turned his deteriorating vision into a new perspective for his art.

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