It’s not especially big – or easy to enjoy, in fact – but this show dedicated to the creator of art’s most haunting face is the largest Edvard Munch show in the UK for 45 years.
At the start there’s lots of context, with the scene set for the artist’s departure from smalltown Norway to the bleakly bohemian delights of Oslo, Paris and Berlin. Rejecting his strict Lutheran upbringing to pursue a less conventional lifestyle, he travelled across Europe, drawing artistic inspiration from the circles he encountered – and a catalogue of failed love affairs.
And while there aren’t any actual paintings here – it’s woodcuts, lithographs and copperplate etchings only – there’s no less impact. Throughout the works, the subjects’ faces reveal the horror of daily life, with its repetition – and, one of the artist’s obsessions – slow path towards death.
Yep, it’s as heavy as that. But you’ll find yourself nonetheless captivated, way beyond that universal symbol of human anxiety, The Scream. Many of the best works feature shorelines populated by static individuals looking out, turned away from the viewer (Young Woman on the Beach is a good example).
Two pieces not to miss? Angst, a dark interpretation of the bourgeoisie in Munch’s hometown of Kristiania; and the embracing couple in Towards The Forest (see main image, above), which nearly offers a glimpse of hope.
You may need something stiff to knock back in the pub afterwards – after all, that’s what Munch would have done – but this most intense of exhibitions does indeed shed some light on one of the first truly ‘modern’ artists.
Main image: Toward The Forest II, Edvard Munch