LONDON - Far from being secondary to his paintings, Edvard Munch’s graphic works are among his most powerful images. As an experimental printmaker, he worked in a variety of graphic media including etching, woodcut and lithography. Munch understood that different print media embodied varying emotional and psychological tones, and by using many combinations of colours to express these moods, each work elicits a different emotional response.


Edvard Munch’s Two Human Beings: The Lonely Ones (W. 157; SCH. 133). Estimate £250,000–350,000.

Two Human Beings: The Lonely Ones stands out among his body of work for his unusual use of black and grey. While the work exists in a wide variety of colours, this appears to be the only known impression in black and grey in private hands, and the Munch Museum holds just one comparable impression of this state and colouration. The coolness of the inks used implies a stark sense of isolation. Munch’s brilliance as a colourist exhibits through his ability to convey something subjectively felt with a subtle shift in palette.  


Edvard Munch’s Moonlight I (W. 90; SCH. 81). Estimate £150,000–250,000.


Munch printed approximately twenty proofs of Moonlight I in similar colour variations; a sure sign he felt this combination successfully conveyed his desired outcome. The amount of ink used and the shifting prominence of the image or wood grain, however, make each print unique. For his woodcuts, Munch exclusively chose blocks of wood sawn lengthwise, emphasizing the year rings of the wood.  The interplay between the cut lines of the subject and the inherent characteristics of the wood grain show Munch at the height of his graphic abilities. 


Two versions of Edvard Munch’s Madonna (W. 39; SCH. 33). (Left: estimate £100,000–150,000. Right: estimate £100,000–150,000. Both versions will be offered in the Prints & Multiples sale in London on 16 September.


In two variants of his highly controversial lithograph, Madonna, we can see how Munch developed his subject over time and changed the drawing to distinguish later impressions.  The first shows the composition in its early state, printed in black, with a frame that encloses the otherwise transcendent woman, its symbolic content earth-bound in the physical consequence of the act.  The second shows its final state with the border masked out during printing. The absence of the border releases the woman from the grounding symbols, charging her with a religious ecstasy. This new drawing shifts the symbolic nuance from the physical to the spiritual, underscoring Munch’s ease of ability to change the mood of his subjects.


Edvard Munch’s Consolation (W., SCH. 6). Estimate £15,000–25,000.


A final point to emphasize was Munch’s obsessive involvement in the printing of his impressions. While he printed many himself, he also chose to work with the most renowned printers of his time. The intaglio prints Consolation and The Kiss are fine examples, printed with rich burr and expressively wiped shadows that allowed for a wide range of variation from print to print. Munch worked on his painting and printmaking in tandem, the technical features of one media informing his explorations in the other.  His focus was on learning how different materials affected the meaning of an image and its impact, and how it brought different sensibilities to the fore. 

Prints & Multiples, 16 September, London. For more information contact the Prints department on +44 (0)207 293 6416 or lucy.rosenburgh@sothebys.com.