An unnamed Edvard Munch painting hidden for decades is in a gallery in Stavanger, western Norway, for a two-month exhibition.
“The Naked Girl with the Three Male Heads” was discovered in Bremen’s Kunsthalle and has no official title. It would have remained concealed behind the 1899 “Death and the Child” painting had the gallery’s employees not been involved with work for Oslo Munch Museum’s ‘catalogue raisonné’.
“All of Munch’s paintings were taken out of their frames and were photographed, and the unknown work was discovered more or less by chance. Employees saw some colouring on the bottom, and the piece of art was x-rayed. Separating the two paintings from each other took two years,” Stavanger Art Museum director Peter Meyer tells The Foreigner.
According to him, Munch had probably not hidden the work, which he had spent seven years painting, because he was dissatisfied with it, “but he had rolled the two paintings together because he travelled a lot. But we can see he preferred “Death and the Child.””
Death and the Child (R), empty frame (L)
©2012 Michael Sandelson/The Foreigner“Munch also had his own so-called quality assurance system. He put his paintings in the snow for a winter and regarded them as being of a good calibre if he liked them afterwards. “Death and the Child” is in tempera, which is very fragile and pre-dates oil-based paint, where egg is mixed with colour powder to make it stiffer,” explains Mr Meyer.
The Norwegian artist had sold the work to an art dealer who subsequently sold it on to Kunsthalle Bremen for about 20,000 Deutschmarks in 1918. It was the first German art museum to purchase Munch and a substantial sum just at the end of WWI.
“The Germans consider him as a European artist, rather than melancholy or heavy as he is viewed here,” Mr Meyer says. “Munch had no followers in Norway, but he influenced the expressionists in Germany, as well as the European abstract expressionist group COBRA.”
COBRA was very active between 1948 and 1951. Belgian painter Christian Dotremont coined the name from the initials of members’ three cities, Copenhagen (CO), Brussels (BR), and Amsterdam (A).
Dotremont drew up a manifesto called "La Cause Était Entendue" (“The Case was Settled”), which he and fellow artists
X-ray of the painting
©2012 Michael Sandelson/The ForeignerKarel Appel, Constant Anton, Guillaume Cornelis, all from Holland, Asger Jorn (real name Asger Oluf Jørgensen,Denmark), and Belgian Joseph Noiret signed in Paris’ Café Notre-Dame in 1948.
“The Naked Girl with the Three Male Heads” oil on canvas belongs, thematically, to what Munch called ‘livsfrisen’ (‘the frieze of life’). This is a collective term for pictures with themes of love, anxiety, and death – also exemplified by “Death and the Child”, which contains elements found in “The Scream”. One version of “The Scream” was recently sold at Sotheby’s in New York for a record USD 119,922,500 million.
Munch’s recently-discovered painting forms part of the exhibition at Rogaland Art Museum called “The Mystery Behind the Canvas”, which also features works by other European artists concerned with similar themes.
The exhibition, which Mr Meyer says, “took one and a half years to plan and is a prologue to next year’s Edvard Munch Year” runs until 25 November.
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