An exceptional discovery is the starting point for this major exhibition of the Norwegian pioneer of modern art: In 2005, during an examination of Munchs painting Child and Death (1899), a second canvas was found, displaying a previously unknown painting by the artist: Girl and Three Male Heads (1895-98).
In 1918, the Kunsthalles Director Emil Waldmann purchased the aforementioned work for 20.000 marks. It was the first painting by the Norwegian artist to be acquired by a German museum and one of the first ever to enter a public collection. He could not have known that the painting harbored another canvas by Munch hidden beneath the original one. Only when the Munch Museum in Oslo requested that the Bremen work to be closely examined in preparation for the artists catalogue raisonné, did a conservator at the Kunsthalle discover the second canvas. The original canvas was removed and mounted on its own stretcher with the result that the Kunsthalle Bremen
now owns two paintings by Munch.
The newly discovered composition Girl and Three Male Heads pits a delicate nude girl against three stylized and grotesque male faces. In this painting, Munch unites existential themes such as innocence and desire, love and death, which occupied him throughout his life. At the same time, the painting is unique in Munch extensive body of work with an unusually dark Symbolist composition. The spectacular finding inspired the title of the exhibition: Edvard Munch Mystery behind the Canvas.
The exhibition explores Munchs motifs and his pictorial language and examines the two Bremen paintings within the context of his work in general, states Dr. Dorothee Hansen, exhibition curator. First-rate loans establish the connection to one of Munchs central thematic projects, the Frieze of Life. In eight chapters the exhibition traces the individual motifs, such as puberty, desire, masks, love and death, grief, and fear.
At the same time, the exhibition also deals with the question as to how Munch was able to imbue his paintings with such a commanding intensity. On the one hand as is the case with our newly discovered painting he developed a highly artificial symbolism, and on the other hand, he created deeply moving expressive figures, which touch the viewer with an emotional immediacy. The quiet horror of the child before her dead mother turns out to be a variation of the famous painting The Scream.
The exhibition presents 76 major works, including 36 paintings as well as 40 drawings and prints. Loans come to us from such renowned museums as the Munch Museum in Oslo, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Kunstmuseum Basel.
For the first time in connection with a special exhibition at the Kunsthalle, the museum also presents a complimentary presentation of works of art drawing mainly from its own collection. The accompanying exhibition, Love, Fear, and Death in Works by Edvard Munchs Contemporaries. Max Klinger, Odilon Redon, Félicien Rops, Félix Vallotton and others, was curated by Dr. Anne Buschhoff and is presented in the newly extended Kupferstichkabinett (Department of Prints and Drawings). This display further explores the themes and motifs of the Munch exhibition and places them within an international artistic context of the period. On display are 50 prints by more than 20 Belgian, German, and French artists.