Munch exhibit at the Clark Art Institute
“Edvard Munch: Trembling Earth” offers a different look at the artist
Clark Art Institute
On June 6, the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., opened the first exhibition in the United States to consider how the noted Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863–1944) employed nature to convey meaning in his art.
Munch is regarded primarily as a figure painter, and his most celebrated images (including his iconic “The Scream”) are connected to themes of love, anxiety, longing, and death. Yet, landscape plays an essential role in a large portion of Munch’s work. “Edvard Munch: Trembling Earth” considers this important, but less explored aspect of the artist’s career. The Clark is the sole U.S. venue for the exhibition, which was organized in collaboration with the Museum Barberini, Potsdam, Germany, and the MUNCH Museum (MUNCH), in Oslo.
“This fascinating exhibition provides a fresh opportunity to explore the range and depth of Edvard Munch’s art,” said Hardymon Director of the Clark Olivier Meslay. “Although many people make immediate associations and assumptions regarding Munch’s work, this exhibition offers a considerably different look at the artist that encourages us to expand our understanding and deepen our appreciation of his exceptional talents. For the Clark, the opportunity to explore Munch’s perceptions of nature against the backdrop of our own beautiful natural setting is particularly compelling.”
The exhibition is organized thematically to show how Munch used nature to convey human emotions and relationships, celebrate farming practice and garden cultivation, and explore the mysteries of the forest even as his Norwegian homeland faced industrialization.
“Trembling Earth” features 75 objects, ranging from brilliantly hued landscapes and three stunning self-portraits, to an extensive selection of his innovative prints and drawings, including a lithograph of “The Scream.” The exhibition includes more than 30 works from MUNCH’s world-renowned collection, major pieces from other museums in the United States and Europe, and nearly 40 paintings, prints, and drawings from private collections, many of which are rarely exhibited.
“This exhibition draws on new research to offer a fresh perspective on Munch’s career,” said Jay A. Clarke, Rothman Family Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago. “Alongside depictions of death, existential torment, and troubled relationships, Munch also created imagery reflecting his knowledge of science, showing his embrace of pantheism, and a deep reverence for nature.” Clarke led the curatorial project for the Clark and began early work on the exhibition when she served as its Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs from 2009 to 2018.
About the exhibition
This exhibition introduces Munch’s lesser-known landscape paintings and considers his iconic figural images from a new perspective, by focusing on how his rendering of nature animated his chosen narratives. In paintings of the Oslo Fjord shoreline and the Baltic coast of Germany, Munch explored changes brought about by increased tourism, partially the result of health reform initiatives extolling the virtues of outdoor activity. Munch developed his own pantheistic worldview that connected human biology, plant life, and the solar system. Munch’s fascination with humankind’s interaction with the earth and the impact of one on the other can be seen in a selection of landscape-rich prints, drawings, and paintings from the 1890s to the 1940s.
“It is with great pride that the MUNCH Museum participates in this substantial exhibition of Edvard Munch’s art, where the public can gain insight into his strong relationship to nature. It is also a great pleasure to participate in a network of skilled professionals from the United States, Germany, and Norway, collaborating to bring forward new knowledge about one of Norway’s greatest artists. I am sure that the exhibition and the insightful catalog that accompanies all three venues will be well received by the public,” said Tone Hansen, director of MUNCH. “MUNCH is a museum for modern and contemporary art and manages and preserves the legacy of Edvard Munch for an international public. An exhibition series like this one demonstrates the importance of Munch’s work, the value of collaboration, and the importance of new research and insight.”
Ortrud Westheider, director of the Museum Barberini said: “Munch’s works are still unsurpassed in their emotional expressiveness and overwhelming modernity, and for good reason: for many people, his art is a symbol of their own feelings. With the first exhibition devoted exclusively to Munch’s landscape depictions, we are opening up a facet of his oeuvre that has hitherto been little represented, and the dramatic weather conditions in his paintings take on a special urgency, especially against the backdrop of the looming climate catastrophe.”
The exhibit ‘“Edvard Munch: Trembling Earth” runs at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., through Oct. 15. For more information, visit clarkart.edu.
To learn more about the Munch Museum in Oslo, see “‘He belongs to us all:’ The new Munch museum in Oslo” by Tove Andersson, The Norwegian American, Nov. 5, 2021.
This article originally appeared in the August 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.