Years ago in Oslo I watched a group of very young students sitting around on the floor in front of “The Scream” with a teacher talking to them about the painting. I have occasionally wondered what those children were making of Munch’s cry of despair. There is only a lithograph of “The Scream” in the current reassessment of Munch’s career on display at The Met Breuer (November 15-February 4, 2018), but there are 42 other works by the artist, including some being seen in the United States for the first time. The current show is titled “Edvard Munch: Between the Clock and the Bed.”
Munch (1863-1944) expressed himself with many paintings that reflected a dark vision. One has to hunt to find any that one might call optimistic. There are two paintings called “Starry Night,” and one has a happy glow, while the other, despite the title, is quite dark. One of the cheerful works in the exhibit is the colorful “The Dance of Life.”
There are 16 self-portraits in the collection, and they have in common a severity of one sort or another. There is a unique one that shows Munch in a stance that comes across as delightfully assertive. There is, of course, the self-portrait of Munch in the painting that gives the exhibition its title, “Self Portrait Between the Clock and the Bed,” with Munch standing stiffly in the middle.
One especially impressive painting, “Jealousy,” shows a couple embracing in the background, while in the foreground a man looks dramatically upset, with the presumtiom that he is jealous of his wife with another man.
Works being shown in the U.S. for the first time include “Lady in Black,” “Puberty,” “Jealousy,” “Death Struggle,” “Man With Bronchitis,” “Self-Portrait with Hands in Pockets” and “Ashes.”
Munch was deeply sadden and haunted by the death of his sister Sophie, and several paintings were inspired by his grief, as in “The Sick Child.”
Whatever his subject, the paintings chosen display the individual styles of Munch as his career proceeded and also reflect his often pessimistic view of life, undoubtedly fueled by his personal psychological problems. This is an excellent opportunity to survey examples of what makes Munch’s work so special. At the Met Breuer, 945 Madison Avenue (at 75th Street). Phone: 212-923-3700. Posted November 15, 2017.