Archives for the month of: September, 2012

I seem to be (willingly) haunted by this iconic and personally deeply symbolic painting.

It has just been announced that the pastel version of Munch’s The Scream, conceived as part of his Frieze of Life series that centred on themes of angst, love and death, is to go on public display at the Museum of Modern Art New York for six months from October 2012. The Scream has never before been shown publicly in the city.

This is the only one of the four versions of the painting that remains in private ownership. A few months ago, this version was sold for a record amount at Sotheby’s New York. Just before it was sold, I was one of the lucky 7,500 or so who viewed the painting in Sotheby’s London.

In the New York auction house, Sotheby clients only were allowed to see it.

Lucky me.

Yet, I am still tempted to make a trip to New York over the coming months. The painting will be on display with many other works by Munch from the museum’s collection. Having seen The Scream in isolation, and the current Munch exhibition at Tate Modern, which did not include any versions of The Scream, I would truly love to see the painting within a wider context of the artist’s life an work.


I like the word ‘Melancholy’.

And I agree with the writer William Styron, who in Darkness Visible (London: Vintage, 2004), his memoir of a lifelong struggle with ‘a malady in extremis’, describes the word ‘depression’ as no way approximating the experience of what it attempts to convey.

For me also, ‘depression’ has become synonymous with the medicalisation of the condition.

Melancholia, on the other hand, is a much more evocative word. Or was, until it was abused, and thus weakened, losing its power in connotations of blandness, a sense of nothingness, or not enoughness.

Which is a shame, as it is a wondrous word. Saying it aloud, it has a richness and a seductiveness about it, which should reflect so much.

Which brings me to the poet Christopher Reid, who has a way of just doing that, using words, with an ease and a deceptive simplicity, to say so much.

The following excerpt from Reid’s poem Espresso, from his most recent collection Nonsense (London: Faber, 2012), encapsulates this, and melancholy…

‘Little cup of melancholy,

inch-deep well of the blackest

concentrate of brown,

it comes to your table without ceremony

and stands there shuddering…’


I was lucky enough to catch this play recently during its second run.

At the centre of Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork’s musical at the National Theatre are the real-life and tragic murders of six prostitutes in Ipswich a few years ago. However, to some extent the actual murders are peripheral, as the play focuses on the community of London Road, neighbours of the convicted murderer, and the effect of the notorious and gruesome events on their lives, both individually and collectively. The play is based on interviews with the real inhabitants of the street, and the 11 actors who represent the community feel spell-bindingly real and authentic.

It may seem strange to present such a topic as a musical, but it works, and even enhances the impact, the emotional content and pathos, and the humanness of it all.

There are no lessons to be learnt here, but perhaps a reminder that the knock-on effects of human tragedy reach far and wide, and may pass unnoticed unless we seek them out.



Three of Warhols prints, inspired by works of Edvard Munch, are coming up for auction at Sotheby’s, at an estimated combined worth of £500,000 to £750,000: The Scream (After Munch), Madonna and Self-Portrait with Skeleton’s Arm (After Munch) and Eva Mudocci (After Munch).

Warhol’s interpretation of the Norwegian artist’s images created works that have become iconic in their own right.

Yet Munch’s original angst, emotional turmoil and despair persevere, despite of, or perhaps emphasised by, Warhol’s distinctive style.


I commenced this blog some months ago with Munch’s The Scream. I now return to Munch, having just seen the current exhibition at Tate Modern.

The exhibition aims to present a fresh perspective on the artist and his work. The accompanying notes highlight the fact that we tend to associate Munch with ‘his images of alienation and sexual torment’, usually in the context of his work from the 1880s and 1890s. The current exhibition focuses on his later work, from the twentieth century, a much more productive period for the artist, and which presents Munch as a more ‘modern artist.’

The exhibition consists of 12 rooms, with themes including Medium as Muse (self-portraits), Reworkings (multiple versions of some images), Autobiography (exploring Munch’s interest in photography), as well as On Stage (paintings from Munch’s collaboration on a production of Ibsen’s Ghosts).

I was particularly intrigued by Munch’s reworkings. Although The Scream does not feature in this exhibition, Munch created at least four versions of the iconic image. So too with The Sick Child  and The Girls on the Bridge, two versions of each of which can be seen currently at Tate Modern. Reworkings were not unusual in Munch’s time. It is tempting, although perhaps fraught, to speculate that the act of repeatedly painting distressing memories, for example the death of Munch’s sister in The Sick Child, may have been therapeutic or cathartic. We will never know. Nonetheless, both versions of The Sick Child presented here capture an almost unbearable and claustrophobic sense of sadness and tragedy.

The spiritual and emotional angst and torment seen in Munch’s earlier images is also visible in this later selection, for example in Red Virginia Creeper, the six paintings that constitute Weeping Woman, as well as Death Room and Jealousy. Munch believed that he ‘came frightened into the world’, and that ‘disease and insanity were the black angels on guard at my cradle’ (Sue Prideaux. Edvard Munch: Behind The Scream. New Haven & London: Yale University Press 2005). His work, through gesture and silent lines, reflects this, a life overshadowed by mental anguish and suffering.

The smudged faces in The Murdress, The Artist and His Model, Man and Woman are as haunting as the penetrating eyes in Red Virginia Creeper, Thorval Lochen and Workers on Their Way Home.

The vibrancy of the colours in much of Munch’s work – for example, New Snow in the Avenue and The Yellow Log (David Hockney comes to mind) – does not undermine the gravity of the content.

Munch had a breakdown in 1908, and the exhibition notes suggest that he then entered a more settled phase. I am not so sure. He once wrote:

‘When misfortune occurs some people hoist all the sails. They can be called those with an heroic nature. Others yield to experience and are marked to it. They can, roughly speaking, be called the walking wounded.’ (Sue Prideaux. Edvard Munch: Behind The Scream. New Haven & London: Yale University Press 2005)

The exhibition does present a fresh perspective of Munch, particularly in terms of the artist as photographer and film maker.

However, much of the emotional content and impact of his earlier paintings continue in this later selection. The ‘Unflinching Gaze’ of Munch’s self-portraits, most notably his final one, Self-Portrait: Between the Clock and the Bed, leave little doubt in this viewer’s mind that the artist continued to expressed himself on canvas as one of the walking wounded….