Explore 7,600 Works of Art by Edvard Munch: They’re Now Digitized and Free Online

If there were ever an exhi­bi­tion of artis­tic “one-hit-won­ders,” sure­ly Edvard Munch’s The Scream would occu­py a cen­tral place, maybe hung adja­cent to Grant Wood’s Amer­i­can Goth­ic. The ratio of those who know this sin­gle paint­ing to those who know the artist’s oth­er works must be expo­nen­tial­ly high, which is some­thing of a shame. That’s not to say The Scream does not deserve its exalt­ed place in pop­u­lar culture—like Wood’s stone-faced Mid­west farm­ers, the wavy fig­ure, clutch­ing its scream­ing skull-like head, res­onates at the deep­est of psy­chic fre­quen­cies, an arche­typ­al evo­ca­tion of exis­ten­tial hor­ror.

Not for noth­ing has Sue Prideaux sub­ti­tled her Munch biog­ra­phy Behind the Scream. “Rarely in the canon of West­ern art,” writes Tom Rosen­thal at The Inde­pen­dent, “has there been so much anx­i­ety, fear and deep psy­cho­log­i­cal pain in one artist. That he lived to be 80 and spent only one peri­od in an asy­lum is a trib­ute not only to Munch’s phys­i­cal sta­mi­na but to his iron will and his innate, robust psy­cho­log­i­cal strength.” Born in Nor­way in 1863, the sick­ly Edvard, whose moth­er died soon after his birth, was raised by a harsh dis­ci­pli­nar­i­an father who read Poe and Dos­to­evsky to his chil­dren and, in addi­tion to beat­ing them “for minor infrac­tions,” would “invoke the image of their blessed moth­er who saw them from heav­en and griev­ed over their mis­be­hav­ior.”

The trau­ma was com­pound­ed by the death of Munch’s sis­ter and, lat­er, his broth­er, and by the insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of anoth­er sis­ter, Lau­ra, diag­nosed with schiz­o­phre­nia. Munch’s own child­hood ill­ness made his school­ing errat­ic, though he did man­age to receive some artis­tic train­ing, briefly, at Oslo’s Art Asso­ci­a­tion, an artist’s club where he “learnt by copy­ing the works on dis­play.”

From there the young Munch launched him­self into an extra­or­di­nar­i­ly pro­duc­tive career, punc­tu­at­ed by leg­endary bouts of drink­ing and carous­ing and intense friend­ships with lit­er­ary fig­ures like August Strind­berg.

If we count our­selves among those who know lit­tle of Munch’s work, a new ini­tia­tive from the Munch Muse­um in Oslo aims to cor­rect that by mak­ing over 7,600 of Munch’s draw­ings avail­able online. “The online cat­a­log, free to all,” notes Hyperallergic’s Sarah Rose Sharp, “rep­re­sents a tremen­dous feat of logis­tics, and fea­tures draw­ings that go back as far as the artist’s child­hood, sketch­books, stud­ies of tools, coins, and keys that demon­strate Munch’s ded­i­ca­tion as a dis­ci­plined drafts­man, and water­col­ors of build­ings that were some of the first bod­ies of work devel­oped by the artist in his youth.”

Over 90% of the draw­ings on dig­i­tal dis­play come from the Museum’s hold­ings, the rest from oth­er pub­lic and pri­vate col­lec­tions. “The goal is to make Munch’s art known and eas­i­ly acces­si­ble to as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble,” Magne Bruteig, Senior Cura­tor for Prints and Draw­ings, tells Hyper­al­ler­gic. “Since the major­i­ty of the draw­ings had nev­er been exhib­it­ed or pub­lished in any way, it has been of spe­cial impor­tance to reveal this ‘hid­den trea­sure.’” The online col­lec­tion, then, not only serves as an intro­duc­tion for Munch novices but also for long­time admir­ers of the artist’s work, who have hith­er­to had lit­tle to no access to this huge col­lec­tion of stud­ies, prepara­to­ry sketch­es, water­col­ors, etc., which includes the mis­er­able fam­i­ly group­ing of Angst, at the top, the reprise of his infa­mous Scream fig­ure, fur­ther up, from 1898, and The Sick Child, above, a por­trait of his sis­ter Sophie who died in child­hood.

The draw­ings date back to 1873, when Munch was only ten years old and insert­ed a series of his own illus­tra­tions into a copy of Grimm’s Fairy­tales. The final works date from 1943, the year before the artist’s death, when he made the self-por­trait above in pas­tel cray­on. Munch’s work, writes Rosen­thal, “is com­pul­sive­ly auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal.” Remain­ing a com­mit­ted bach­e­lor all of his life, he said that “his paint­ings were his chil­dren, even though he gave many of them a some­what Spar­tan upbring­ing, delib­er­ate­ly leav­ing them not only unvar­nished but exposed to the ele­ments in his vast out­door stu­dio or hung on walls, unframed and with nails through them.” The sev­er­al thou­sand draw­ings he fathered seem to have been treat­ed with more care. Delve into the enor­mous col­lec­tion at the Oslo Munch Muse­um site here, where you can also view many of the artist’s paint­ings and learn much more about his life and work through arti­cles and essays.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed Con­tent:

30,000 Works of Art by Edvard Munch & Oth­er Artists Put Online by Norway’s Nation­al Muse­um of Art

Edvard Munch’s Famous Paint­ing “The Scream” Ani­mat­ed to the Sound of Pink Floyd’s Pri­mal Music

The Edvard Munch Scream Action Fig­ure

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (6)
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  • Nicholas Swinburne says:

    I would nev­er char­ac­ter­ize Munch as a one hit won­der. He’s an extreme­ly well known painter, and his ouevre is not at all obscure.

  • Geraint ap Iorwerth says:

    who said that he was?

  • Deo says:

    The first para­graph explic­it­ly says so…

  • Josh Jones says:

    I under­stand. I only used the phrase to point out that mil­lions of peo­ple know The Scream (from t‑shirts, mousepa­ds, posters, The Simp­sons etc.) but know noth­ing about Munch. He’s obscure to a large num­ber of peo­ple who are very famil­iar with one paint­ing.

  • mack says:

    .… tis true that the first para­graph patro­n­is­es many of us read­ing this — who will all know his works beyond the scream very well and have for decades since 1940s etc — and per­haps under­mines the man him­self. Oth­er­wise a fair arti­cle and link to a trove of qualia !

  • John MacIntyre says:

    I think Munch was not as com­plex as those who would have us believe so,…more so a prod­uct of his time and expo­sure. I think his learned traits were reflect­ed in his work and he was deeply con­cerned with momen­tary emo­tion. Shock­ing oth­ers as well as him­self appears to be a delight he rev­elled in, although the essence of feel­ings com­pelled him to say here it is. Thank you Edvard for your hon­esty and desire to unveil life.

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