Norway began to prepare for this celebration in advance. Large-scale exhibitions of works by the master are already planned to be conducted in Paris, Tokyo, and – the biggest in its history – in Oslo. What is Munch’s art and how is Oslo and the surrounding area going to celebrate the event?
Edvard Munch’s art for Norwegians today is the same brand as the music of Grieg, plays of Ibsen or their natural fjords. During his lifetime the artist was often rejected by the public, accepted and rejected again at home and in the world. Munch paintings are just like his life – bright, painful, piercing. He, in a peculiar expressive manner splashed on the canvas his most delicate, intimate state of mind. In the second half of the twentieth century his works have become real world art classics and the pride of Norway. Now people pay tribute to him which did not happen during his lifetime. Munch Museum in Oslo is very popular, and for Norwegians having reproductions of his paintings is a sign of good taste. This is despite the fact that a Munch painting is hardly harmonious – but usually rather alarming.
“Munch cannot be called intellectual in the modern sense. But he was very enlightened in matters of science, literature, and so on. He had a very human heart. He always hoped that his paintings would help others understand the meaning of life and their feelings. Love, jealousy, attachment, separation – all the things that were so hard achieved in his life, “- says Petra Pettersen, curator at the Munch museum (Oslo).
In Oslo, any tour guide will show you plenty of addresses where Munch once lived, a cafe he loved to visit and the cemetery, where his humble grave bears hand-written messages in Norwegian: “There are no words to express our admiration.” But the true spirit of Munch, of course, lies in his paintings. The Munch Museum is decorated with a pattern taken from his canvases. There are more than 130 thousand visitors each year. During the preparation for the anniversary, the museum staff published a book – the result of long and painstaking work. It collected more than 15,000 documents – letters, notes and poems.
“Munch-artist – is a national treasure of Norway. But few people know that he was also a fine poet. His paintings are complemented with blank verses. We have translated his poetry into English for the new book. Gradually we will translate them into other languages too, “- notes the Munch Museum director Stein Olav Henriksen.
Munch had a restless soul. He had repeatedly been treated in a psychiatric hospital. Art therapy – which is so fashionable today – was established because of the friendship between Munch and Dr. Linde. However, there is one place in Norway where Munch always felt well so painted only bright pictures.
“Walking in Åsgårdstrand – it’s like a walk through my paintings. I have an irresistible urge to paint when I’m in Åsgårdstrand,” – Munch said and he came here every summer for over 20 years.
Adelita Haukeliseter has become involved in Munch’s opening accidentally, when she fell in love with his paintings. Today she is the main expert on the suburban life of the artist. In Åsgårdstrand you can still find Munch’s natural scenery. It seems that the city did not change much. Only the number of tourists keeps increasing every year, while the artist himself is covered with mythology.
“Munch had a whirlwind romance with Tulla Larsen, and later they separated. It ended in tragedy with Munch shooting off his finger. Two years ago a woman came here and told us that her family kept an invoice, which indicates that Munch had ordered, from her grandfather, a silver finger-prosthesis to replace the real one, which he shot off, “- says Adelita Haukeliseter.
In Oslo, there are many more curious stories about Munch. Svein Åge Slettetveit – Manager of luxurious Grand Cafe at the Karl Johans Gate – shows his visitors the painting by Per Krogh exhibiting regulars of the cafe at the turn of the twentieth century. Tourists usually know two names among the famous Norwegians: Henrik Ibsen – a nominal table is still there, and Edvard Munch.
“When Munch was just a beginner painter, he liked to visit the cafe, which was frequented mainly by local bohemians. He could not afford to pay for lunch, so he sold one of his paintings to the waiter. The deal was for 40 dinners – steak, a glass of vodka and beer jar. Incidentally, he had to repeat this many times until he became famous and rich”, – assures the cafe manager.
Preparing for the anniversary of Munch is going well. Books are being published, exhibitions are being prepared. The only issue is that in the Edvard Munch museum there is not enough exhibition space to display the entire legacy left by this master. However, the authorities have decided to build a new museum which has led to a debate in society about where it should be located. We are excited and looking forward to seeing when and where it will be done.