4. Berlin and the major cycles, 1892–1907
Source: Oxford University Press
Munch arrived in Berlin in autumn 1892, after he was invited to exhibit by the Verein Berliner Künstler. His exhibition there was dominated by paintings emulating various French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist tendencies, but a majority of the members of the Verein voted to close it after one week, mainly in response to the uncompromising personal subject-matter. The ‘Munch Affair’ aggravated already existing splits within Berlin’s art community and led to the establishment, under the leadership of the engraver Karl Koepping, of the Freie Vereinigung Berliner Künstler in protest. The ‘Affair’ also provided Munch with unprecedented publicity, which appeared to promise a significant German market for his art. He was invited to exhibit elsewhere in Germany, finally exhibiting in Berlin at the Equitable Palast in December of the same year.
Apart from the summers painting in Norway, Munch spent the next three years in Germany in extensive, almost frenetic, exhibition activity, through which he gained a small but influential clientele of patrons, such as Eberhard von Bodenhausen, Walther Rathenau (ii) and Harry Count Kessler (1868–1937), and critics associated with the innovative literary and artistic periodical Pan. He also befriended Pan’s editor, Julius Meier-Graefe, August Strindberg and the Polish writer Stanisław Przybyszewski, who were resident in Berlin at that time. Together with the German poet Richard Dehmel, they formed the core—augmented by Przybyszewski’s future wife, Dagny Juell, and periodically by other Scandinavian, French, Polish and German critics, poets and artists—of a bohemian group meeting at a bierkeller called Zum schwarzen Ferkel. It was from within this fermenting artistic milieu, with shared obsessions in monism and the psychology of sexuality, that Munch formed the beginnings of his cycle of paintings initially entitled Love, which was extended and exhibited at the Berlin Secession in 1902 as a frieze of 22 paintings on motifs of love and death unified by their Åsgårdstrand setting and later identified as The Frieze of Life. This visualized philosophy of sexuality, the psychology of love, the generation of life and the effects of death influenced most of Munch’s major paintings of the 1890s, including The Voice (1893; Boston, MA, Mus. F.A.), The Vampire (1893; Göteborg, Kstmus.), Ashes (1894; Oslo, N.G.), Madonna (1894–5; Oslo, N.G.), The Scream (1893; Oslo, N.G.), Three Stages of Woman (Sphinx) (1893–5; Bergen, Meyers Saml.) and Death Enters the Sickroom (1893–4; Oslo, N.G.). The cycle demonstrates above all how Munch extended the obsessive personal nature of his subjects into universal symbols of emotional states.
The same motifs provided the material for Munch’s initial attempts at printmaking. Munch had learnt to make drypoints in 1894 for financial reasons, and he printed his first colour lithographs and woodcuts in 1896. As an artist he had a rare ability to master various printmaking techniques at the same time. An initial portfolio of eight drypoints was published in 1895 by Meier-Graefe and Bodenhausen, but a more ambitious project for a portfolio of 20 lithographs and woodcuts to be entitled Speilet (‘the mirror’), although announced for publication in 1897, was never completed (examples in Oslo, Munch-Mus.). In 1909 he published the series of lithographs illustrating his own story of the life and death of a couple, the first and last human inhabitants of an island, Alpha og Omega. Prints of various types became important foundations for Munch’s investigation of the same motifs throughout his life. Through the prints, and especially through his woodcuts (e.g. Workers in the Snow, 1911; Oslo, Munch-Mus.), he was able to exploit various effects he also used in his paintings, for example stylization and chiaroscuro, which were allied to a great expressiveness of line. His use of woodcut was innovative, in that he began to exploit the structure of the wood itself, thus emphasizing the expressiveness of the material. Munch’s woodcuts had a marked influence on later artists, especially the German Expressionists, and they did much to foster a revival of the technique. From the time he made his first prints, the prints and the paintings largely fed off one another.
Munch had also become interested in photography after his meeting with Strindberg in 1892. He used photographs for documenting his work and his surroundings but also as the basis for portraits and other compositions. Although he never regarded his photography as the equal of his prints and paintings, he considered it, following Strindberg, as particularly revealing of character, and he made extensive use of self-portraits (especially in the period 1902–8) after he bought a small camera in Berlin in 1902. His photographs, for example Self-portrait, Åsgårdstrand (1904; Oslo, Munch-Mus.), are often more experimental than his other works, especially in their treatment of light, and he made particular use of blur and double exposure.
Constant travel in France and Germany after 1895 and a dramatic romantic involvement with a Norwegian woman, Tulla Larsen, beginning in 1898 caused Munch to seek to restore his nervous and physical strength in the sanatorium of Kornhaug in Gudbrandsdalen in 1899–1900. He continued to work on Frieze of Life motifs and their variations but also began to receive an increasing number of portrait commissions from Germany and to gain significant patronage as well as critical recognition there. Despite the traumatic end of his relationship with Tulla Larsen in 1902, which resulted in his being shot in the hand and which inaugurated a period of intense psychological turmoil for him, Munch fulfilled his varied commissions. These included a frieze of 12 tempera paintings for the Kammerspielhaus of Max Reinhardt (1873–1943), for whom he also executed stage designs, in Berlin (1907; now Berlin, Neue N.G.). Another frieze intended for the room of the children of the German collector Max Linde (1862–1940) (now Oslo, Munch-Mus.) was completed in 1904, although Munch’s use of the same subject-matter meant that Linde (who wanted landscapes) did not accept it. At this time Munch also painted a new cycle on love relationships, entitled The Green Room, for example Consolation (The Green Room) (1907; Oslo, Munch-Mus.). Manifesting varied stylistic approaches, the painting cycles continued to explore the motifs of The Frieze of Life, but with shifting emphases that began to accentuate group dynamics rather than individual relationships. The same is true of the monumental triptych Bathing Men (The Ages of Life) (1907–8), in which the paintings Youth (Bergen, Meyers Saml.), Maturity (Bathing Men) (Helsinki, Athenaeum A. Mus.) and Old Age (Oslo, Munch-Mus.) are a celebration of masculinity and virility manifested in fraternal association, naked in intense sunlight.
From Grove Art Online