LONDON (Reuters) - How do you stage an Edvard Munch exhibition without featuring the work for which he is renowned the world over - “The Scream”?
Four versions of the haunting, swirling image exist of which three are in museums and unlikely to travel, while the fourth just sold at Sotheby’s New York for $120 million, the highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction.
The Tate Modern in London believes it has the answer. In a new show dedicated to the Norwegian painter, the London gallery has chosen to focus on the whole of his career and paint a more rounded picture of the artist.
“The idea was to build an exhibition whose star lot was not missing, and we wanted to get away from that,” said Nicholas Cullinan, curator of “Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye”.
“Tragedy and loss and angst — all of those words are often associated with Munch. They are true, but they are not the complete truth,” he told Reuters at a preview of the show featuring around 60 paintings and 50 photographs.
In a written introduction to the show, Cullinan referred to the “clichés of Munch as an angst-ridden and brooding Nordic artist who painted scenes of isolation and trauma.”
In fact, Cullinan argues, Munch was an artist interested in photography and film making - disciplines which helped shape his paintings - and engaged in current affairs when portraying street scenes or incidents reported in the media.
“It’s trying to come up with a balanced and accurate portrait of Munch as an artist,” he explained.
That involved showcasing many works from the 20th century, which account for around 75 percent of Munch’s output.
The fact that early versions of The Scream, and other familiar pictures like “Madonna” and “Vampire,” came from the late 19th century, have meant him being associated mainly with that period.
An early self-portrait from 1882 shows off masterful technique in a conventional depiction, but 20 years later he made another out of woodcut with gouges, giving the impression of a face scarred with deep wounds.
Munch was not averse to re-working the same image, either to meet the demand of collectors or to fill exhibitions of his work which made him substantial sums of money.
In the Tate, “Vampire” from 1893 is freely adapted in “Vampire in the Forest” from 1916-18, while “The Sick Child”, which draws on the memories of his own sister’s death of tuberculosis when he was a teenager, was revisited many times throughout his life.
Munch criticized the practice as “what you might call a picture factory - turning out replicas to sell”, but defended his own involvement by saying “there was always progress too, and they were never the same.”
The artist was a keen photographer, with self-portraits and pictures of his paintings among his favorite subjects.
The exhibition also screens a five-minute film from 1927 that recorded street scenes, landscapes, friends and the artist himself, while Munch kept a close track of current affairs after returning to Norway in 1909 despite a relatively secluded life.
Cinematic and photographic techniques clearly found their way into his paintings, as in “Workers on Their Way Home” featuring a crowd of ghoulish laborers set against an exaggerated perspective lurching towards the viewer.
In “Panic in Oslo” (1917) he portrays waves of unrest that swept neutral Norway towards the end of World War One prompted by fears of shortages, while in “Execution” (1929) he depicts a soldier shooting unarmed civilians in cold blood.
In the final room of the exhibition a series of self-portraits show Munch’s unflinching preoccupation with his own physical decline. In “The Night Wanderer”, dated 1923-4, the artist appears as a gaunt, ghost-like insomniac pacing around a darkened house. Munch died on January 23, 1944.
“Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye” runs from June 28 to October 14 and costs 14 pounds ($22). It is sponsored by Statkraft.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White; editing by Patricia Reaney