Loneliness, anxiety, jealousy, fear and torment: Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) probably wasn’t much fun at parties, but he sure had a knack for art. This exhibition doesn’t make for easy viewing: it’s heavy, dour stuff that’ll hang over you like a dark cloud.
But don’t come here expecting a massive in-depth show of his iconic paintings – this is all about his prints. Munch worked extensively with woodcuts, lithographs and etchings, and the results are often lovely.
Everything that’s in Munch’s paintings – except for colour – is also in his prints. There are lovers whose bodies merge, couples tearing themselves apart in separation, solitary figures lost in unbearable anguish, beautiful unattainable women. ‘The Kiss’ is filled with a naked lust that’s almost shockingly intense; the eyes of the lovers in ‘Attraction I’ are sunken and hollow; and ‘The Scream’ – yes, it’s here, relax – is colourless, stark and almost more haunted than the painted version.
There are lots of stunning prints here. ‘Madonna’ and ‘Lovers in the Waves’ are gothic and dark, and the pain of the hangover in ‘The Day After’ is so real you can almost feel the nausea and migraine. But the show’s still a bit of a mess. It starts with so much unnecessary biographical context that you’re almost bored before you even get going. Munch also did so many versions of all these images that the works can get repetitive. Having a couple of his paintings in the show just makes you realise what you’re missing by being stuck with his prints, while the inclusion of works by Degas and Max Klinger doesn’t bring much to the party.
But Munch’s work is iconic for a reason. When he hits you with all that pain and torment, you stay hit. The eyes of his works follow you around the room, and they’ll haunt you when you leave. It might not be pleasant, but it is proof of how brilliant he could be.