Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Martindale Artworks!
If you are an art lover, here are some movies, books and exhibitions you might be interested in. I have not seen/read all of these, so you may wish to check out the links for more information before attending. I am only passing these along as entertainment, not advertising for anyone or anything.
1. The younger set might like the animated movie ‘The Painting’ (2011), where the subjects and landscape of an unfinished painting come to life. You can read more at IMDB.
2. One of the newest films out is titled ‘Big Eyes’ (2014). It is the story of a husband who involves his wife and her paintings in one of the largest cases of art fraud and how she deals with it. You can check it out at IMDB too.
3. One of my favorite books, ‘The Rescue Artist’, is about the theft of Edvard Munch’s iconic painting, ‘The Scream’. It is written by Edward Dolnick and if you can’t find it at your local library, you can check it out at link above.
4. Other IMDB movies about art and artists can be found at the following link: art movies.
Kimball Art Museum, Ft. Worth, TX- through January 25, 2015: Faces of Impressionism: Portraits from the Musee d’Orsay
MoMA, New York, NY- through February 10, 2015: Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs
Edvard Munch’s most popular work by far is “The Scream”. It was part of his project titled ‘The Frieze of Life’, which consisted of roughly two dozen paintings that dealt with emotions and the human condition. “The Scream” however, is very different from all of the other works in the ‘Frieze’.
First, all of the other works are painted in true Munch style in oil on canvas, as were most of his works. He painted “The Scream” in tempera paint (a basic paint similar to poster paint) and pastels on a piece of cardboard, much like that which a box is made of. These are not archival materials in any sense, but he managed to paint “The Scream” at least four times, each time on a piece of cardboard. Do the delicate materials used represent Munch’s delicate mental state at the time?
Second, Munch was famous for working and reworking his paintings and making copies of them, or, tossing them if dissatisfied and starting over completely. The other works of ‘The Freize’ have a finished look, one that took time and a more even method of technique. “The Scream” on the other hand, is a much different style for Munch, painted fast and furiously, almost as if he could not paint fast enough to get the idea out of his head. So, how did “The Scream” come to be? Why add a piece that when compared to the others looks almost abstract in technique and subject matter?
Munch’s diaries and other notes of record indicate he and some friends were walking along a road near the water’s edge on a November evening in 1883. When the sun set that night, it turned the sky a bloody red. Already in a frail mental state, Munch froze, paralyzed with fear, while his friends continued on, apparently oblivious to the scene at hand. What did Edvard Munch actually see, that would have such a profound effect on him? Many theories are out there, but physicists Don Olson and Russell Doescher, along with English professor Marilyn Olson believe Munch witnessed the aftermath of a once in a lifetime event.
Earlier that year in May, halfway around the world on the island of Krakatoa, off the coast of Indonesia, a volcano began to vent from the pressure built up inside, resulting in activity on and off again for the next three months. Finally, over a period of a couple of days in late August of 1883, two-thirds of the island were blown apart by the massive volcanic explosions, which were heard as far away as Australia. The extreme force actually burst the eardrums of some nearby sailors, and the ash plume was reported to have risen as high as over 15 miles into the atmosphere. The death toll was massive in the surrounding areas, due to the explosions as well as the resulting tsunamis.
The global aftereffects would last for many years. Temperatures were colder than normal and by November, reports surfaced from New York, Norway, and much of the Northern Hemisphere regarding the magnificent, even spooky at times, sunsets. The descriptions ranged from “blood-red”, to “alive with color” to “the sky is on fire”. Many artists were inclined to paint the phenomenon happening daily around them. Some art scholars have been quick to say that Munch did not paint this event, however, Munch himself recollected that it was an image he would never forget, saying it even drove him mad trying to record it in paint. Did he or didn’t he paint the sky from life? Did he ever even know of the Krakatoa eruption? Munch wrote that he tried feverishly for years to paint his recollection of the evening stroll with his friends, which may explain why there are at least four versions of it and why they were painted so quickly that some of the cardboard even shows through the paint.
The final difference that makes “The Scream” stand out from the rest of the images of ‘The Frieze’, is its popularity. “The Scream” has been transformed into one of the most iconic images in the world. It has appeared on nearly everything, from magazine covers and magnets to key chains, posters, and greeting cards, etc. Even full-sized Halloween masks are replicas of the central figure in the painting. What makes this painting so popular? Do people connect with the artist or the image? Do they feel the despair and confusion that leaps out of the blood red sky? One thing is for certain, this most likely was an incidence of art imitating life.
Footnote: While researching Edvard Munch and “The Scream”, I literally stumbled upon a book by Edward Dolnick titled, “The Rescue Artist” (copyright 2005, Harper Collins). I was aware of course of “The Scream” and Munch, but this book enlightened me even more about the two subjects. It is here that I found out how Munch came to paint “The Scream”, which led to even further research on that issue alone. The book is a true story about the 1994 theft of the actual painting from the National Gallery in Oslo, Norway. If you enjoy reading about art, history, and cops and robbers, I think you will enjoy reading “The Rescue Artist“.
Edvard Munch was born in 1863 in the countryside of Norway to Christian and Laura Munch. At just a year old, Edvard’s family moved to Christiania, Norway, which is now Oslo. His childhood was miserable, full of death and family mental issues. His mother died of tuberculosis (tb) by the time Edvard was five, and one of his four siblings died of tb by the time he turned 14. Another sister was institutionalized for going mad, and a grandfather died of mental disease. Munch and his only brother survived tb.
Edvard showed a propensity for art early in life, starting with drawing and watercolors then moving to oils by age 13. His father sent him to engineering school, but this was not for Edvard. Much to his father’s dismay, Munch quit university and headed off to be an artist. At 17, in 1881, he enrolled in the Royal School of Art at Christiania, under the tutelege of Julius Middelthun and Christian Krohg. He was greatly influenced by Impressionism, and began a bohemian lifestyle that would strain an already tense relationship with his father, who was not amused by Munch’s choice of style, and whom Munch depended on for monetary support. His subject choice was also greatly debated, as death, melancholy, and his surroundings of taverns and their clientele seemed to inspire him most. In 1886 he painted , The Sick Child, which was one of his most controversial paintings to date. It portrays his mother at the deathbed of his sister Sophie who was dying from tb. Munch’s work to date had little approval from the public, however The Sick Child, in the view of the public and art critics alike, was a tasteless work that should never have been displayed at all.
In 1889, Munch began a two-year school under the tutelage of French painter Leon Bonnat. The lessons proved boring to Munch, as he noted in his diaries, but he thoroughly enjoyed his excursions to the museums and galleries of Paris with Bonnat and his commentaries on the paintings they viewed. He quickly became influenced by Henri Toulouse de Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Georges Seurat. Later that same year, Edvard’s father died. He and his family were virtually penniless, so Munch left Paris to take care of what family he had left.
By 1890, Munch had turned to Expressionism, feeling bored with the limitations of Impressionism. His main goal was to paint his soul, his feelings, his life. Art critics and the public were once again upset at his efforts, calling his work unfinished and primitive, and the violent outbursts at gallery showings oftentimes would shut the shows down due to the commotion his paintings created.
Munch continued to paint and exhibit his work, regardless of the unwelcome reactions and criticisms he had grown accustomed to. His paintings dove deeper into the psychological realm, as did his own psychosis. He very rarely sold original paintings, but often made copies or prints available to the public. Munch affectionately referred to the originals as “my children”.
Frieze of Life -Munch’s largest project was his “Frieze of Life”, a series of paintings that he considered a “poem about life, love, and death”. The Frieze consisted of over 24 paintings, however, in true Munch fashion, he was constantly adding, subtracting, even reworking some of the paintings. He also made and sold copies and prints of many of them. He began the works for the Frieze in 1892 and continued throughout the decade on them.
At the turn of the century, Munch entered a relationship with an upper class woman named Tulla Larsen. After traveling together for a few months, Tulla’s conversations turned to marriage, something that was not on Edvard’s horizon. His poor health and tendency towards alcohol marred any vision he ever had of the notion, not to mention his own family history. He left Tulla for Berlin, where his paintings actually started having positive feedback. Munch’s struggles would continue though, despite an upturn in critical review of his work. Not only was he in an altercation with another artist, but Tulla eventually contacted him once more. She demanded to see him and with the help of some friends, brought him to her home. They lured Munch by telling him she was on her deathbed and had requested to see him. When he entered the room, she told him she was not sick at all and threatened to kill herself if he would not have her back. She brandished a pistol and as they struggled, the gun went off, injuring two of Munch’s fingers, fortunately on the opposite hand he painted with. This led to more paintings with deep and torn emotions, not only regarding women, but life itself.
In 1906, Edvard was invited to exhibit with a group of artists in Paris known as the Fauvists, whom Munch had inspired. He finally started becoming financially stable through portrait commissions and prints he had made of his work. This success would be short-lived however, as alcohol and his mental condition worsened. He was hospitalized for eight months for hallucinations and anxiety. As his later paintings would show, the therapy and rest were good for him. He returned to Norway once again in 1909, and the public started to accept Munch as an artist. His paintings had more color and he had expanded to landscapes and full length portraits. He started to affiliate himself with a better crowd, and, on doctor’s orders, drank less, thereby giving himself as stable a life as he had ever known. He returned to the family estate at Ekely, Norway, where he painted regularly.
Edvard painted right up to the end. On January 23, 1944, at the age of 80, Munch died at Ekely. His house was demolished in 1946. His works are represented in museums all over the world, however, the largest collection is the Munch Museum in Oslo. He bequeathed nearly 1,100 paintings, 4,500 drawings, and some 18,000 prints to the city. His most famous work, “The Scream”, is still used in many applications today according to copyright, and is one of the most widely recognized pieces of art today. (My next post will be about the painting The Scream and some interesting facts surrounding it)