This dream-like impression of Two Human Beings. The Lonely Ones is inscribed “Kjopt av Edv. Munch 23. Feb. 1942 / Harald Holst Halvorsen” (Acquired from Edv. Munch 23. Feb. 1942 / Harald Holst Halvorsen). Halvorsen was a good friend and ardent supporter of Munch’s. The two men corresponded frequently, and Halvorsen’s letters to Munch survive. These letters chronicle Halvorsen’s enduring desire to obtain works by his close friend both for his clients and for his personal collection. Roughly one month after the German invasion of Norway in 1940, concerned for the safety of both the artist and his works, Halvorsen wrote to Munch, encouraging him to join his family and the painter Per Deberitz on the remote island of Skaatøy. In his letter, Halvorsen described hearing the sounds of bombs across the lake; however, he wrote fondly of his home on the small island. In subsequent correspondence, which is intertwined with personal anecdotes and musings on the weather, Halvorsen expressed his interest in Munch’s coloured prints, specifically mentioning The Lonely Ones on multiple occasions. According to the letters, on 23rd February 1942 (months after he initially expressed interest in the subject), Halvorsen’s desire for a coloured print was fulfilled when he purchased two impressions of The Lonely Ones directly from the artist. We assume from his letters, and from the inscription that appears on the work, that Halvorsen found the impression offered here particularly desirable, and therefore decided to acquire the print for his private collection. The turquoise-blue, reddish-orange, and golden yellow that are combined in this impression give the work an ethereal yet striking quality.
The Lonely Ones depicts two figures standing on the shore of Åsgårdstrand; they are not looking at each other but out to the expanse of ocean in front of them. In creating this subject, Munch employed a jigsaw technique in the woodcut process, sawing the block into sections to be inked separately, before reassembling them to be printed together. The ocean; the man, sutured to the land; and the figure of the woman as an isolated form constitute the three individual parts of the woodblock. The human beings are therefore separated from one another through the process of the print’s production and in the ensuing composition.
In this variation of the subject, however, Munch’s experimentation with other compositional techniques complicates the meaning of the work. Using a stencil, the artist applied a middle ground to the shore in brown ink with hints of green, thereby drawing the man and woman together by the band of colour. As such, while Munch’s jigsaw technique disconnects the figures, they are simultaneously united by the ground that they stand upon. The components of the image are therefore distinct yet indivisible: the figures appear to be infinitely - at least physically - together, but they remain disjointed and isolated. Thus beyond being technically inventive, the processes used here serve to emphasise the emotional divide between the figures and the atmosphere of existential loneliness that the work conjures. Dieter Buchhart succinctly captures the psychological connotations that are expressed by the motif of The Lonely Ones: “Though the man and the woman are presented close to each other, the distance between them seems to be insurmountable, and they both remain alone, caught in paralysis.” (Edvard Munch: Love, Death, Loneliness (exhibition catalogue), Vienna, 2015, p. 101)
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