6:00 p.m., September 19, 2022, amended to 6:24 p.m., September 19, 2022
A man and a woman fall into each other’s arms. The couple isolate themselves from the background, a curtained window quivering against the intensity of the scene unfolding. The faces dissolve into a single indistinct mass; eyes, noses and mouths have disappeared. With The kiss (1897), Edvard Munch (pronounced “mounk”) moves away from the anecdote to represent the fusional moment that erases the surrounding world. The passion becomes all-consuming a little further with Vampire (1895), depicting a creature whose long red hair cascades over its shoulders, leaning on the back of its prey’s neck, to absorb its vital force.
The feeling of love in all its states never ceased to inspire the Norwegian painter, who repeated the motif endlessly during his eventful trajectory. A sublime introduction to the Musée d’Orsay retrospective, which sweeps over sixty years of coherent, obsessive and overwhelming creation. “The project was launched four years ago by our former president Laurence des Cars, says Claire Bernardi, director of the Musée de l’Orangerie, who is the curator here. It was necessary to obtain the support of the Munch museum in Oslo, custodian of the rich collection of more than 4,000 pieces. »
On the edge of fantasy
The three variations of the famous Shout (1893), considered the Scandinavian Mona Lisa and hijacked as an emoji, could not move, due to their extreme fragility and the incredible theft that occurred in 2004. The centerpiece, however, is present in the form of a lithograph by 1895 enhanced by hand, which accentuates the contrasts. Claire Bernardi asked the National Gallery of Oslo, the museum of Bergen as well as institutions of other European countries to constitute a rich wandering of a hundred oils and graphic works giving a vision “global and extensive” of a course “long eclipsed by The Scream “.
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“I could have built a flurry of exhibitions, I made a drastic selection, she specifies. We need to breathe between two paintings as the subject is so strong. » And sometimes chilling, when he denounces the women victims of the predation of men. As in Hands (1895), showing a crowd of men trying to grab the object of their desire. Even worse, Puberty (1894-1895) shows a naked pre-adolescent girl, seated on a bed, while a shadow invades the wall behind her. Is it his own coming-of-age anxiety or the threat of a stranger popping into the room? The result is terrifying.
“There is always a hidden narration in Munch’s paintings, an enigmatic parallel dimension bordering on the fantastical, continues Claire Bernardi. This is what makes his symbolic corpus very cinematographic. We understand that popular culture has taken it up. He reproduces his contemporaries in the pangs of everyday life, he copies his torments on them to exorcise them. His paintings are in a way freeze frames in which we easily project ourselves because we find ourselves in the emotions described. » Edvard Munch covers his ears when he hears the deafening cry of nature with which he communicates, prey to melancholy, loneliness. He expresses it through a very singular vision in series retracing an existence punctuated by misfortunes.
The pillar of expressionism was born in a weak body in 1863, baptized at home because his parents feared a cold. With a military doctor father whom he followed for a long time in consultation, the child was early in contact with pain. First trauma: the disappearance of his mother, killed by tuberculosis when he was only 5 years old. A decade later, the same evil took his sister Sophie away from him. In Near the deathbed (1895), he reconstructs the funeral wake of his eldest, his family at his bedside. He even summons the ghost of his mother, livid complexion and absent gaze.
Recovered by Nationalists
To overcome the hardships, his father took refuge in religion and austerity. Her other sister, Laura, developed psychological problems to the point of being interned. Her brother, Andrea, died of pneumonia at age 25. The accumulation of drama inevitably inspired Munch, who wrote in one of his notebooks: “Illness, madness and death were the black angels that bent over my cradle. » He died in 1944, aged 80, following a lung infection and after being in a psychiatric hospital in the early 1900s. “He knew fear and suffering, as evidenced by his characters with bulging eyes and skeletal faces, which denote a taste for the macabre”notes Claire Bernardi.
The one who has always been “firm on its anti-Nazi positions” will have seen nearly 80 of his works censored in the 1930s by the Third Reich, which viewed his art as “degenerate”. Ironically, the nationalist movement in Oslo has “recovered” later the funeral of a painter who was nevertheless his fierce opponent.
“Edvard Munch – A poem of life, love and death”, from September 20 to January 22 at the Musée d’Orsay (Paris 7th). musee-orsay.fr