Painted in the summer of 1904, this work presents a view from the artist's house in Åsgårdstrand (fig. 2), showing the house itself to the right of the composition. Munch first visited Åsgårdstrand, a resort a few miles to the south of Oslo, in autumn of 1888. He took a holiday residence there in the summer of 1889, which he rented for some years until he purchased a house in 1897. In the following years, Munch travelled widely across Europe, making extended visits to Berlin, Paris and Hamburg, but often returned to Åsgårdstrand during the summer months. He painted some of his best landscapes there, characterised by his expressive winding line and strong, vivid colours.
'The countryside around the little town of Åsgårdstrand 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 after 1902 the unhappiest and most difficult, yet most productive ones 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 colour and form.
Having visited Paris in 1903 and the early months of 1904, Munch was certainly deeply impressed by the Fauve artists, whose vividly coloured canvases he would have seen there. During these extensive European travels, however, Munch regularly returned to Åsgårdstrand, fascinated by the Norwegian landscape and seeking to express its mood and atmosphere through colour and line. From Åsgårdstrand combines the joyous feeling of a sunny summer day, expressed through the brush-stokes of radiant primary tones, with the twisting lines usually associated in Munch's paintings with feelings of fear and anxiety. This undulating contour of the Åsgårdstrand coast was immortalised in his famous Linde Frieze series (fig. 3), which includes several views of the coastline executed in the same summer.
Munch's landscapes of this period had a strong influence on German Expressionist painters, who had the opportunity to see his works in several exhibitions in Germany between 1905 and 1908. The brilliant, wild palette that dominated Munch's canvases had a powerful impact on the Brücke artists who were eager to move away from their urban surroundings in Berlin and other cities, and to embrace the more 'primitive' life-style and wild nature of the northern German coast. It was the daring, expressive power of Munch's landscapes, pulsating with undulating lines and vivid, dramatic brush-strokes, that had such a profound effect on some of the major figures of twentieth century art including Kirchner, Schmidt-Rottluff, Pechstein and Heckel.
Fig. 1, A view of the Munch exhibition at Galerie Commeter, Hamburg, showing the present work (upper left), 1906-07
Fig. 2, Munch at the easel in front of his house in Åsgårdstrand, 1889
Fig. 3, Edvard Munch, Summer Day, 1904-08, oil on canvas. Sold: Sotheby's, London, 7th February 2006
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