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Stadel Museum Shows Prints from Its Collection Made by Edvard Munch
Exhibition view. Photo: Alexander Heimann.
FRANKFURT.- The Städel Museum’s Department of Prints and Drawings holds more than 80 prints by the Norwegian Edvard Munch (1863–1944), among them donations by the artist and many acquisitions already made during his life-time. Presenting these impressive treasures, the exhibition “Edvard Munch. Prints in the Städel Museum” pays tribute to the outstanding expressiveness of Edvard Munch’s prints and illustrates their landmark importance for twentieth-century art. Like in his paintings, Munch mainly gave expression to psychological states and interior processes in his prints, too. With his scenic descriptions and symbolic mental landscapes, he created sheets thematizing moods and life experiences such as love, jealousy, anxiety, disease, loneliness, or grief. Portraits, however, also play an important role within Munch’s work as a printmaker. He captured friends from the bohemian world such as Henrik Ibsen, Stéphane Mallarmé, or August Strindberg in psychologically profound pictures. The show contextualizes this oeuvre by confronting it with selected positions of artists such as Beckmann, Gauguin, Heckel, Klinger, Redon, or Toulouse-Lautrec as they become manifest in works from the Städel’s collection. The exhibition will be on show in the Department of Prints and Drawings from 3 July until 18 October 2009. The Städel Museum will set up a special microsite under http://munch.staedelmuseum.de, which offers detailed information on the various printing techniques, the life and work of the Norwegian artist, and the works by Edvard Munch in its collection.

Edvard Munch began to dedicate himself to printing at the age of 31 when he lived in Berlin. The year was 1894. The extensive oeuvre of prints he produced in Germany, Paris, and Norway throughout the following decades into his old age mirrors both his life and his fascination with the specific qualities of the chosen means of expression. Fond of experiments, he succeeded in combining the peculiar possibilities of the etching, the lithograph, and the woodcut with complex contents in a masterly and innovative way.

Most of the motifs he chose resemble those of his paintings executed before. In 1894, Munch was as well known as he was controversial. It was especially the scandal around the exhibition of his paintings at the Association of Berlin Artists in 1892 – which was closed down because of the public’s and the critics’ outrage – that provoked a discussion on the free treatment of his objects’ colors and forms. Like the French Impressionists, the Scandinavian was vehemently rejected by the conservative voices in the Berlin of that day.

Doing without color, Munch at first translated decisive motifs of his paintings like “The Girl by the Window,” “The Day After,” or “The Sick Child” into etchings in Berlin. These early dry-point works made in the knowledge of contemporary masterpieces such as the etchings by Max Klinger (1857–1920), but obviously without having received any lengthy instructions show an astounding quality and evince Munch’s promising talent. Together with five other engravings, these works are part of a portfolio with intaglio prints by Edvard Munch published by Julius Meier-Graefe in Berlin in 1895 and unsuccessfully offered for sale at the time. The Städel has been in the possession of the complete portfolio of a special edition printed on rice paper in only ten copies.

Munch’s first lithographs date from as early as 1894 when he did his first etchings. The more than 30 examples in this technique presented in the exhibition include impressive pictures depicting changing moods of love (“Sea of Love,” “Separation,” and “Vampire”). Two lithographed versions of “Jealousy” (1896) suggest a comparison with the later painting of the same name in the gallery of the Städel. Munch’s “Cordon” offers a visionary commentary on the “female as an object of desire” that has a forebear in Henri Toulouse-Lautrec’s lithographic oeuvre.

In an unrivaled way, Munch captures difficult-to-grasp psychological states and emotions between the sexes. It is hardly perceptible how his motifs transcend the everyday world and find their equivalent in today’s emotional life. As simple as his symbolically condensed feelings seem to be, as profound is the meaning pervading them.

Both Eros and Thanatos are among the fundamental experiences of life which occupied the artist throughout his career. The pictures of his 15-year old sister Sophie’s demise in 1877, which he witnessed and depicted again and again in varied forms in paintings and prints, number among his most powerful documents concerning the subject of death. In Paris, where he took up residence in 1896/97, he had “Death in the Sickroom” (in black on blue-grey deckle-edged paper) and “The Sick Child,” an incunabulum of color lithography, printed by Auguste Clot. It was under Clot’s hand, who, commissioned by Ambroise Vollard, began working on series of prints by Les Nabis (Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard, Maurice Denis) at that time, that color lithography blossomed as a new late-nineteenth-century achievement in printing technology.

Many of Munch’s lithographs are empathic portraits of contemporaries. He rendered his patron and friend “Harry Graf Kessler” as a subtle aesthete in 1895, working with the model in front of him and drawing directly on the stone. The portfolio “From the Linde Villa,” a special kind of family portrait, was executed on behalf of the Lübeck ophthalmologist and significant sponsor Max Linde in 1902. Since the work was intended exclusively for the family’s personal use, only a few copies were printed, which is why it is only rarely to be found in public collections. The exhibition also includes a number of portraits of his bohemian comrades such as the Polish poet Stanisław Przybyszewski, the writer Henrik Ibsen, and the Swedish playwright August Strindberg – the latter Munch’s partner “in regard to the feminine, in drinking, and in neurosis,” as Meier-Graefe put it in 1915.

After having done etchings and lithographs, Munch began to try his hand at woodcuts, too, in 1896. Comparing the dry-point work “Two People” from 1894 with a color woodcut exploring the same subject from 1899 reveals the technically caused differences. But such juxtapositions also disclose how the atmosphere of silence and isolation translates into the idiom of the respective printing medium – a creative process always accompanied by the condensation of the pictorial idea and its expression in increasingly concrete terms.

There were only a few artists such as Paul Gauguin and Félix Vallotton who, like Munch, in those days made use of the Japanese woodcut as the oldest known printing technique against the background of the interest developed for it in Paris. As Gauguin, thanks to his experimental attitude, began to break new ground for the woodcut around 1895, Munch also developed innovative methods of production in this field. While he printed his color woodcut “Seascape” (1897) from two blocks in the traditional way, “Two People” (1899) and “To the Forest II” (1915) are the result of a procedure hitherto unknown in this technique. Munch cut up the block with a fretsaw to apply different colors to the various parts and achieve a wide range of variants after assembling them like a puzzle. The influence Munch would exercise on subsequent artists was also based on this method, which would be taken up by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

Today, the Städel Museum’s Department of Prints and Drawings holds 81 prints by Edvard Munch. Edvard Munch was still alive, when, under Georg Swarzenski’s directorship, the outstanding color lithograph “The Sick Girl” and two etchings were purchased for the Städtische Galerie. Further acquisitions could be made in 1912, 1914, 1916, and 1918. After the artist himself had donated 11 lithographs and woodcuts to the collection in the early 1930s, the holdings had increased to 40 works. While two of three paintings by the artist purchased in the 1920s were confiscated as “degenerate” in 1937, his prints were spared. The losses to be lamented by the Städel in the field of Expressionist prints were generously made up for by Dr. Carl Hagemann’s legacy after World War II in 1948. The transferred prints of his collection also included works by Edvard Munch. Since those days, well-considered purchases were made at auctions to complement and extend the extant holdings in a reasonable manner.

When the Städelsches Kunstinstitut presented its exhibition “Edvard Munch. Prints” with well over 100 works from 12 October to 23 November 1952, most of them were loans from a German private collection. Today, after more than 50 years, the Städel can draw on its own treasures to pay tribute to the outstanding expressiveness of Edvard Munch as a printmaker.

Stadel Museum | Edvard Munch | Ernst Ludwig Kirchner | Paul Gauguin | Félix Vallotton | Henrik Ibsen |




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