Johann Anker, Esker (acquired in 1927)
Hr. Helmer, Oslo
Private collection (by 1930 and thence by descent to the present owner)
Oslo, Nasjonalgalleriet, Edvard Munch, 1927, no. 126 (titled Late Summer Evening, Åsgårdstrand)
New York, National Academy of Design, Landscapes of the Mind, 1995-96, no. 23
Lugano, Museo d'Arte Moderna, Edvard Munch, 1998, no. 49
Painted in the summer of 1902, this work presents a view around Munch’s house in Årsgårdstrand (see fig. 1), showing the house itself to the left of the composition. Munch first visited Årsgårdstrand, a resort a few miles to the south of Oslo, in autumn of 1888. In the following summer he took a holiday residence there, which he rented for some years until he purchased a house in 1897. Around this time Munch traveled widely across Europe, making extended visits to Berlin, Paris and Hamburg, but often returned to Årsgårdstrand during the summer months. It was here that he panted some of his best landscapes, characterized by his expressive winding line and strong, vivid colors.
"The countryside around the little town of Årsgårdstrand near the west bank of the Oslo Fjord held an exceptional place in Munch’s art. Munch was familiar with all of its features: the gently undulating coastline, the large crowns of linden trees […] After several summer holidays there, he was able to immerse himself in the essence of the place in a way which made it a reflection of his own inner landscape, while simultaneously expressing the moods and feelings of an entire generation" (Edvard Munch, The Frieze of Life (exhibition catalogue), The National Gallery, London, 1992, p. 54).
Munch himself considered the years around 1902 the unhappiest and most difficult yet most productive of his career. It was during this period that he moved increasingly away from portraits and representations of people in outdoor settings towards the motif of landscape. This shift of focus, however, did not signify a departure from his earlier obsession with tormented, angst-ridden individuals. On the contrary, it was precisely this emotional and mental instability that gave the artist the insight to produce such masterpieces as the present work, in which he reached a certain level of abstraction, expressing the joys and anxieties of the human condition through the pictorial elements of color and form. He found a new motif through which to channel his interests, rendering the mood and atmosphere of the Norwegian landscape through strong colors and expressive swirling lines.
The present composition depicts the surroundings of the artist’s house at Årsgårdstrand on a clear summer night. A firm believer in the psychological and emotional, rather than documentary quality of art, Munch chose different times of day in order to imbue his landscapes with certain moods he sought to convey. Inspired by the notion of the "blue hour", a distinctly fin-de-siècle concept rooted in early Romantic literature and associated with the long summer evenings typical of Scandinavia, the artist here depicts his scene at the twilight hour, when the sky is filled with stars, but the landscape is not yet enveloped by darkness of the night. In fact, in Norway in high summer the sun barely sets at all, and the reddish glow of sunset that never completely fades is captured in the present work in Munch’s depiction of the sky and its reflection on the landscape. Munch found Årsgårdstrand particularly alluring at night, and he once told a friend: "Have you ever walked along the shoreline and listened to the sea? Have you ever noticed how the evening light dissolves into night? I know of no place on earth that has such beautiful lingering twilight." Nocturnal landscapes had preoccupied Munch earlier in his career, when he painted Starry Night (see fig. 2) in the latter half of the 1890s, and a winter version White Night (see fig. 3) executed several years later. The sublime quality of the summer evening, at once beautiful and melancholic, provided the subject matter for Summer Night in Årsgårdstrand (see fig. 4) of 1904-05, and continued to inspire the artist throughout his career.
Fig. 1, Postcard view of Årsgårdstrand
Fig. 2, Edvard Munch, Starry Night, circa 1895-97, oil on canvas, Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal
Fig. 3, Edvard Munch, White Night, 1901, oil on canvas, Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo
Fig. 4, Edvard Munch, Summer Night in Årsgårdstrand, 1904-05, oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay, Paris
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