Lot 6
  • 6

Edvard Munch

1,800,000 - 2,500,000 USD
1,986,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • Edvard Munch
  • Rowboats at Åsgårdstrand
  • Oil on canvas
  • 39 1/4 by 29 1/2 in.
  • 100 by 75 cm


Karl Them-Enger, Åsgårdstrand (acquired between 1933 and 1937)

Sven Brit Leiv Them (acquired by descent from the above and sold: Sotheby's, New York, May 18, 1983, lot 74)

Private Collection (acquired at the above sale)


Gerd Woll, Edvard Munch, Complete Paintings, Catalogue Raisonné, 1921-1944, vol. IV, London, 2009, no. 1713, illustrated in color p. 1537

Catalogue Note

Rowboats at Åsgårdstrand, painted between 1932 and 1933, epitomizes Munch's life-long fascination with the sea, one of the central subjects and key symbols of his work. Just as the German Expressionist artists often ventured away from the city to the Baltic coast, Munch painted many of his major works, including his pivotal Frieze of Life, on the Oslo Fjord at Åsgårdstrand and Hvitsten. While his early landscapes usually mirror the artist's mood, often with somber or mystical undertones, his later treatment of this genre is a colorful celebration of nature and its power. In Rowboats at Åsgårdstrand the undulations of the water rippling against the boats and port evoke the eternal rhythm of the sea.

Rowboats at Åsgårdstrand depicts the jetty of Åsgårdstrand with the Kjøsterud building in the background, a backdrop Munch used in many compositions throughout his career, including the celebrated Girls on the Bridge of 1901 and its subsequent versions. Thirty years after painting the first of this series, Munch applies the same technique of elementary simplification which he employed for earlier landscapes. The artist portrays the pier as a sharp diagonal line which extends to meet the horizontal stretch of land on the shore. The angular lines of the pier, houses and boats are softened by the fluid masses of the linden trees. Ragna Stang interprets the artist's revisiting of previous themes: "The composition is the same as before, but the colors are new, and far stronger. Although some of the emotional element is missing, his later pictures still have a great deal of power. He was not painting merely to replace works that he had sold, nor to provide carbon copies of earlier versions, but rather to make sure that he did not stray from his original intentions. Perhaps he also wanted to provide some justification for not having followed contemporary fashion and painted 'apples on a tablecloth, or a broken violin" (Ragna Stang, Edvard Munch, New York, 1979, p. 273).

Alongside Van Gogh, Munch was the key pioneer of Expressionism whose influence on the course of modern art cannot be overstated. Both artists make use of the landscape as a vehicle to express inner states of being. In depicting nature in a highly individual, internalized manner, Munch draws on the tradition of stemningsmaleri, or 'mood-painting', characteristic of Nordic art towards the end of the nineteenth century. Munch abandoned the plein-air naturalism, which had dominated Norwegian landscape painting, in favor of an emotionally-charged and resonant vision of nature. "One must paint from memory," Munch proclaimed. "Nature is merely the means. They want the painter to transmit information simply as if he were the camera. Whether or not a painting looks like that landscape is beside the point. Explaining a picture is impossible. The very reason it has been painted is because it cannot be explained any other way [...] If one wishes to paint that first pale blue morning atmosphere that made such an impression, one cannot simply sit down, stare at each object and paint them exactly as one sees them. They must be painted as they were when that motif made such a vivid impression" (quoted in Sue Prideaux, Edvard Munch: Behind the Scream, London, 2005, p. 201).

Munch first visited Åsgårdstrand, a resort a few miles to the south of Oslo, in the 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 traveled widely across Europe, making extended visits to Berlin, Paris and Hamburg, but often returned to Åsgårdstrand during the summer months. He painted his Frieze of Life there, characterized by his expressive winding line, distorted perspective and non-naturalistic colors that would ultimately inspire the Fauves in France and Expressionists in Germany and Austria. "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 Asgardstrand's features: the gently undulating coastline, the large crowns of the linden trees, and the white fences which materialized like fluorescent bands in the summer night. 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" (Marit Lande in Edvard Munch, The Frieze of Life (exhibition catalogue), The National Gallery, London, 1992, p. 54).