- Edvard Munch
KRAGERØ OM VÅREN
(KRAGERØ IN SPRING)
- signed E. Munch and dated 1929 (lower right)
- oil on canvas
- 98.3 by 95.2cm.
- 38 3/4 by 37 1/2 in.
Private Collection, Scandinavia (by descent from the above. Sold: Christie's, London, 25th June 2002, lot 32)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owners
Kragerø in Spring, painted in 1929, epitomises Munch's life-long fascination with landscapes, 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 on the Norwegian coastlines. In May 1909 the artist first visited Kragerø, a town in the rural Telemark region on the southern coast of Norway in order to recover from a nervous breakdown. He rented a property in Kragerø and set up a large open air studio, inspired by the surrounding gardens, woods and rocky coastline. Munch had travelled widely in Europe, making extended visits to Berlin, Paris and Hamburg, but often returned to Kragerø. He painted some of his finest landscapes there, characterised by his expressive winding line and strong, vivid colours (fig. 1).
Whilst Munch's early landscapes usually mirror the artist's mood, often with sombre or mystical undertones, his later treatment of this genre is a celebration of nature and its forces. The regular line of the road and its verges convey a sense of harmony, while compositionally providing a perspectival device that leads the viewer's eye towards the houses in the background. In the present painting, Munch creates a dramatic composition out of a seemingly straightforward representation of nature. Although Munch in his later years had intentionally turned away from the emotionally charged self-expression of his earlier works, he typically infused his landscape paintings with deeper psychological content. Kragerø in Spring is no exception; the rich contrasts add a complexity and depth that evokes an atmosphere not of foreboding but of peace and calm, perhaps reflecting the tranquillity in Munch's own life during this period.
The landscape along the coastline provided the backdrop to many of Munch's compositions. Occupying a special place in the artist's world and his memories, it served as a stage on which, in Munch's own words, 'life is played out in all its variety, with its joys and sorrows'. In a retrospective note, probably written at the end of the 1920s, Munch wrote the following about his calling as an artist: 'In my art I have tried to explain my life and sought clarity about the path of life. It has seemed to me that this might also help others to a clarity regarding their own lives' (quoted in Gerd Woll, op. cit., vol. I, p. 28).
Munch himself considered the 1920s as some of the most productive years of his career. His emphasis during this time transitioned from the interior scenes with narrative to outdoor scenes that embraced a new sense of abstraction and liberated colour. 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 of his earlier years that gave the artist the insight to produce such expressive compositions 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.
Alongside van Gogh, Munch was the key pioneer of Expressionism whose influence on modern art cannot be overstated. Both artists make use of the landscape as a vehicle to express inner states of being. The expressive use of contrast and form in the present work serves not only to render a certain atmosphere, but also to convey a particular mood. In depicting nature in such a highly individual manner, Munch draws on the tradition of stemningsmaleri, or 'mood-painting', characteristic of Nordic art towards the end of the nineteenth century. Alongside his fellow Norwegian artists such as Sohlberg and Egedius, Munch abandoned the plein-air naturalism which had dominated Norwegian landscape painting, in favour of a resonant vision of nature.
The artist himself proclaimed about his personal, expressive use of colour: 'One must paint from memory. 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, start 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).
FIG. 1, Edvard Munch, Gate i Kragerø, 1910, oil on canvas, Munch-museet, Oslo
FIG. 2, Edvard Munch painting in the street in Kragerø, 1911