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Edvard Munch: 'Masterpieces from Bergen' review

  • Art
  • Courtauld Gallery, Aldwych
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Ved dødssengen
Edvard Munch (1863-1944) At th…oser Homes, Bergen, Norway Dag Fosse / KODE

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Anguish, pain and melancholy are flooding through the rooms of the Courtauld. It’s what you’d expect from a show of work by the man who painted ‘The Scream’ – probably the most famous image of angst in history – but it still packs an emotional punch. 

Edvard Munch is Norway’s great modern artist, a radical figure who dedicated his life to painting emotion just like the impressionists painted light. This collection of early works starts off sedately enough with impressionism-indebted experiments in dappled sunshine: an Oslo street scene from 1890 is all tiny brushstrokes and shimmering sun-soaked pavements, an 1888 painting of his sister in the light is almost too bright to look at. 

These don't feel like the Munch we know, but don’t worry, that comes quick. By 1892, light is swapped for shadow, daytime for midnight. A beach scene is grey and swirling, a house is bathed in black, human figures are reduced to nothing but their own shadows.

And then suddenly it’s all there, all the Munch tropes: the long, thick swooping outlines, the sunken cheeks, the pallid skin. That Oslo street scene from earlier is now full of ghosts, the figures have become corpse-like and haunted. Even Munch’s nudes are choked with agony, the misery of failed romances and aimless desires. There are some beautiful works here, but it’s a bit of a stretch to call them masterpieces, and by the time you get to his painting of a funeral, with its open casket and deathly mourners, you sort of get the message. Everything’s gothic and painful and overwrought, and it all starts to feel a little forced and cloying. 

There are some lighter works at the end too – filled with thick, bright marks – but you’re not here for that, you’re for the torment, the anguish, the darkness, you big emo, and there’s plenty of it.

Written by
Eddy Frankel


Courtauld Gallery
Somerset House
The Strand
Tube: Temple

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