There seems to be a theme running through many of this spring’s exhibitions in London about the link between art, science, magic and medicine from Smoke and Mirrors at the Wellcome Collection, to What Once Was Imagined at the RSGP, to the collaboration of Grace Pailthorpe and Reuben Mednikoff at Camden Arts and Emma Kunz’s spiritual works at the Serpentine.
Edvard Munch (1863-1944) was a prolific printmaker as well as a painter, often experimenting with different techniques to achieve varied – and more moody – effects from the one printing block exploring the differences that could be achieved between the comparative precision of lithographs and the texture and grain of timber embedded into woodblock prints.
The exhibition at the British Museum, drawn primarily from the collections of the Munch Museum in Oslo and the British Museum itself, tells the stories of both Munch’s printmaking and of his troubled life, which is evident in his work, in particular his dark self-portraits and, of course, his famous images such as Madonna and The Scream, where you can feel the agony trapped within the images, trying to break out: ‘The angels of fear, sorrow and death stood by my side since the day I was born’. (Edward Munch).
The best parts of this exhibition are the personal stories and items that throw a light on his personal life, his friends, his difficult relationships and his travels around Europe, to his writings and interest in psychology, which had become fashionable at the time.
Among other honours, recognising the strong links between Scotland and Norway, he was made an honorary member of the Royal Society of Scottish Artists. Exhibitions of his work were, as you can imagine, very controversial at the time, with the artistic elite horrified at what they saw, but the Scottish artist William McTaggart, whose wife was Norwegian, was a great supporter.