Known as a pioneer in the Expressionist movement, Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) also gained the reputation of being a relentless misogynist. The significance of women in both Munch's life and his art will be reassessed in a new exhibition opening Saturday, Sept. 20, at the Yale University Art Gallery.
Titled "Munch and Women: Image and Myth," the exhibit features 71 woodcuts, etchings, lithographs and drawings, selected from the Epstein Family Collection in Washington, D.C. -- the most extensive holding of Munch's works outside Europe. In selecting the works, says Patricia G. Berman, professor of art history at Wellesley College and guest curator of the exhibition, she sought to demonstrate the richness of the artist's oeuvre while taking a fresh look at his views and images of women.
The exhibition and accompanying catalogue "disentangles the roles women played in the artist's lived experience from those that fermented in his imagination," according to Richard S. Field, curator of prints, drawings and photographs, who organized the Yale exhibition. "More than any other artist of his generation, Munch internalized the dire cultural conflicts brought on by the emergence of women as social, economic, intellectual and sexual forces on the one hand, and as a symbol of the modern 'discovery' of the unconscious on the other."
Munch, who grew up in the Norwegian capital of Oslo (then called Christiania), created a large body of paintings and graphic works during his long career. He also left voluminous writings, correspondence and interviews, which served as resources for the exhibition and catalogue for "Munch and Women: Image and Myth." Like his contemporary Sigmund Freud and his friends the playwrights Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg, Munch focused his work on people's inner life and conflicts. "No longer will interiors and people reading and women knitting be painted," he said. "There will be living people who breathe and feel and suffer and love." "The Scream," which is perhaps his best-known image, characterizes this view of art in its depiction of isolation and terror, says Ms. Berman.
Many of Munch's images explore his traumatic childhood. The son of a devoutly religious military doctor, Munch lost his mother to tuberculosis when he was five, and his sister Sophie succumbed to the same disease nine years later. Included in the Yale Art Gallery exhibition are the artist's works "The Dead Mother and Her Child" and "Death Chamber."
Assertions that Munch was a misogynist were based on the artist's succession of unhappy love affairs, which fueled his creation of such images as "Vampire," "Harpy" and "Death of Marat," which are also on view in the Yale exhibit. Yet the artist also created portraits of specific women, such as his sister Inger, his patron Marie Linde and the musicians Eva Mudocci and Bella Edwards, in which "his subjects appear individualized and assertive," according to Ms. Berman, who also notes that the artist's representations of mothers, workers or emancipated women frequently indicated a keen and sympathetic social sensibility.
"Munch and Women: Image and Myth" will be on view through Nov. 30. It was organized and circulated by Art Services International and is supported at Yale by the Robert Lehman Exhibition and Publication Fund. The accompanying catalogue is available at the gallery's museum shop.
A number of public programs are planned in conjunction with "Munch and Women: Image and Myth." Among these are gallery talks by Mr. Field on Tuesday, Sept. 30, at 2 p.m. and Thursday, Oct. 2, at noon; an art à la carte talk exploring the question "What is a Woodcut?" led by Barbara Harter of the Creative Arts Workshop on Wednesday, Sept. 24, at 12:20 p.m.; and a symposium on "Munch and Sexual Anxiety" which will be presented in late October. Further information on these and other events will appear in future issues of the Yale Bulletin & Calendar.
The Yale University Art Gallery is located at the corner of Chapel and York streets. The museum and sculpture garden are open to the public free of charge Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. The museum has extended its Sunday hours; it will now be open 1-6 p.m. A museum entrance for persons using wheelchairs is located at 201 York St. For general information, call 432-0600; for further information about access, call 432-0606.