Monday 20 June 2016

London Calling | Edvard Munch's "The Scream" in auction

The Scream
Lithograph, 1895
Monday, June 20, 2016 - This June and September, Sotheby’s will offer at auction two momentous graphic works by Edvard Munch: The Scream and Self-Portrait, both from 1895. These important works come to sale from a private Norwegian collection and were originally owned by Olaf Schou, the Norwegian industrialist, art collector and patron who was a friend and great supporter of Munch’s. Sotheby’s auction marks the first appearance on the market of these prints. The Scream will be offered in Sotheby’s Evening Sale of Impressionist & Modern Art in London tomorrow, with an estimate of £800,000-1,200,000, while Self-Portrait will be offered as part of Sotheby’s Prints & Multiples sale in London on 27 September 2016, with an estimate of £50,000-70,000. Olaf Schou (1861-1925) was particularly taken with Munch’s work, and beginning in the 1880s he provided him with financial support whilst purchasing his works regularly at exhibitions. The relationship between artist and patron was one of mutual respect, and over time Munch began reserving some of his most important works for his ardent and long-time proponent, including The Scream of 1893. Schou acquired these two lithographic impressions directly from Munch circa 1900. They were subsequently inherited by Olaf’s brother, Christian Schou, and thence by descent they passed into the collection of the present owners. Munch created Self-Portrait in Berlin in the autumn of 1895, at the age of 31. He produced his printed depiction of The Scream shortly afterwards. The current owners of the works describe that, for as long as they can remember, the lithographs have hung side by side in their home: they have therefore always perceived these prints as being pendants to one another. When viewed in this way, the images gain even greater meaning and potency.

Self-Portrait constitutes an outward and physical representation of the artist, which, regardless of its Symbolist references to mortality, depicts Munch in a state of quiet composure. The Scream complements this image as a rendering of the artist’s inner, psychological self; one in which his internal torment and horror resonates around him and throughout the landscape. The lithographic version of The Scream is one of several iterations of what has become a momentous subject – a composition first conceived in tempera and crayon in 1893. It was typical of Munch’s practice to investigate a recurring motif in both painted and printed media, usually to divergent but equally compelling ends. In the lithograph Munch has transformed the powerful hues of the first iteration into simple black and white contrasts, equally powerful in their summarisation of the psychological content. While Munch’s creation of the lithograph would have been motivated, at least in part, by a desire to disseminate his painted image more widely, no formal edition of the print was ever published. Only a small number of lithographs by Munch of this subject exist, and there are even fewer variations identical to the variation of the print on offer in Sotheby’s sale. Munch produced three variations of the subject; in some impressions, the image alone is printed; others include the title ‘Geschrei’ (‘Scream’). In impressions such as this, Munch included the title and a German inscription at the bottom right: ‘Ich fühlte das grosse Geschrei durch die Natur’ (‘I felt the great scream throughout nature’). This inscription recalls Munch’s experience of a moment of anguished epiphany, at Ekeberg in the hills above Kristiania, which inspired the artist’s first explorations of the subject. Having built a strong relationship with Jens Thiis (1870-1942), the Director of the National Gallery in Oslo, in 1909 Schou donated 116 works by Munch and other artists to the museum. This generous endowment included Madonna (1894–95) and The Girls on the Pier (circa 1901), as well as Munch’s second version of the celebrated painting, The Sick Child, which Schou commissioned in 1896. The year following the donation, Schou presented the museum with his most invaluable gift: the 1893 tempera and crayon version of The Scream.

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