The “raw human emotion” of Edvard Munch’s art will go on display at the British Museum, in the largest UK exhibition of the Norwegian artist’s celebrated prints for nearly half a century.
Among the 83 artworks that are being assembled from around the world is a rare original print of “The Scream”, Munch’s most famous work, lent by a private collection in Norway. It is the first time in a decade that an original version of this depiction of mental anguish will go on show in the UK, in the print medium that secured Munch’s reputation.
Norway’s Munch Museum is lending nearly 50 prints from its collection and three matrixes, the indented stone or wood surfaces the artist created to transfer ink to the printed paper. Matrixes were normally discarded but Munch treasured his, recalling them from publishers and eventually donating hundreds to the city of Oslo along with his collection of works.
His consummate skill as a master printmaker reached its zenith in the two decades leading up to the first world war, when he travelled widely on Europe’s rail network and worked in Berlin and Paris as well as his native Norway.
The British Museum said the show would focus on Munch’s “remarkable and experimental prints — an art form which made his name and at which he excelled throughout his life — and will examine his unparalleled ability to depict raw human emotion”.
Munch’s painful childhood, when he suffered the early death of his mother and sister from tuberculosis and struggled with a difficult relationship with his father, fed into his art, fuelling his preoccupation with love, anxiety, grief and loneliness. Later, a series of disastrous relationships underpinned his need to explore human suffering through art.
His work was seen as highly avant-garde at the time, with his depiction of a dying child causing a scandal at its first exhibition in Berlin in 1892 — not because of its subject matter but because the canvas appeared half-completed.
Giulia Bartrum, exhibition curator, said: “People simply weren’t used to unfinished paintings that looked like his hands had been rubbing into the paint, trying to express the urgency and pain of the moment of death.”
While the show closed within a week, Ms Bartrum said it proved highly influential among Berlin’s contemporary painters.
The British Museum show is sponsored by the AKO Foundation, set up by Nicolai Tangen, a Norwegian hedge fund manager who studied the art of expressionist prints at the Courtauld Institute. With 3,000 works, he holds the biggest private collection of modernist Nordic art in the world and is converting a grain silo in Kristiansand, in southern Norway, into a museum for its display, due to open in 2021.
“Edvard Munch: love and angst” runs from April 11 to July 21 at the British Museum.