Edvard Munch: Prints
Death, existential angst and the impossibility of love are recurring themes in this exhibition of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch’s prints. Devised as a cunning strategy to publicise his paintings, the appeal of the prints is more timeless, and the Hunterian Art Gallery has put up a fine selection of 40 woodcuts, lithographs and etchings on loan from the Munch Museum in Oslo.
Within the lines, shades and shadows of this exhibition lies evidence of the tormented search for clarity and an insistence on an explanation for life. Stylistically influenced by the post-impressionists and a founder of visual expressionism, Munch was more interested in line than colour, and his subject matter evolved to depict a state of mind rather than an external reality.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen so many daytime visitors at a visual art exhibition in Glasgow, as crowds moved through the gallery in serpentine locomotion.
There is one work you will struggle to spend time with alone, as all visitors want to ponder the infamous scream for a while – perhaps in an attempt to experience a bit of fin de siècle ennui. One critic claimed that ‘The Scream’ was a response to Schopenhauer’s statement that ‘the limit of the power of expression of a work of art was its inability to reproduce a scream’. It comes as no surprise that Munch would take on this challenge.
Munch’s subject matter, rendered in blues, greys and greens, centres around languid lovers, a melancholic Madonna, femininity, discontented figures by the shore in the moonlight, and distraught portraits of himself and contemporaries.
Most of his prints have an idiosyncratic quality. Not his portraits: their execution allows for the pensive personalities of his subjects to filter through – the distinctive grizzled bristles of Mallarmé’s beard, the confident outlines of Nietzsche’s larger-than-life face and the search for meaning in the eyes of Norwegian playwright, Ibsen.
As a type of ‘artist’s proof’ in its entirety, this exhibition portrays a milieu that gave rise to an active distortion of reality and in effect conjures up a boozy nausea very relevant to our time.