Sale of important paintings at Sotheby’s in London

February 2006

The paintings are to be auctioned on February 7th and Sue Prideaux has written the introduction to Sotheby’s catalogue.

Eight important paintings and four graphic works from the private collection of Fred Olsen are being sold at Sotheby’s in London on February 7, 2006. The pictures can be seen on Sotheby’s website It’s worth a look; they are not pictures you often see except in catalogues of past exhibitions to which they have been lent. The earliest is a sensitive ‘Head of an Old Woman’ 1883, executed in charcoal and watercolour in 1883 when Munch was only twenty. It supports his remark that Rembrandt was an early influence. It also demonstrates the young Munch’s own precocious insight into the human condition.
‘Self-portrait on two-coloured background’ c.1904 is probably the most glamorous of Munch’s many self-portraits. The figure is introspective and melancholy: the existential hero whose mystery is increased by using his deeply-shadowed eye sockets like a pair of dark glasses to hide his eyes and his thoughts. Portraits from this time are often loaded with tension by the simple means of placing the subject in relation to the point in space where two corners meet; this portrait simplifies the corner treatment, reducing it two colour fields of yellow and green.
A couple of gloriously colourful and optimistic canvases from Nedre Ramme, circa 1915, are painted in high summer and show that Munch’s interest in depicting blinding sunlight continued after he had painted the monumental ‘Sun’ for the Aula. In one of the canvases his young model Ingeborg sunbathes by the seashore, and the other, ‘Bathing Men’ is interesting to contrast with his earlier treatment of the subject painted in Warnemunde 1907-09. This later treatment is more lyrical, more painterly, and less Body Beautiful than the Warnemunde paintings; the bathing men no longer advance along the beach as naked conquerors, they are now very much in harmony with the elements of sun and sea. ‘The Waves’ and ‘Horses’ are two monumental canvases belonging to the period when he had moved to Ekely and was celebrating nature’s harmonies on large canvases. ‘Self-portrait with Spanish flu’ provides an interesting and seldom seen conclusion to the Spanish ‘flu series. The bright, light treatment speaks of his exhilaration at escaping death, while the sketchiness and minimal covering of the canvas hint at the physical weakness of the convalescent artist as he created the picture.
Finally, the enormous ‘Summer Day’ 1904-08 is a painting with a great deal of history. Originally part of the frieze commissioned for the room of the Linde children, Dr Linde’s commission specified “…no kissing or loving couples; the children as yet have no knowledge of such things.” Munch of course was unable to refrain and Linde had ample grounds for his subsequent rejection of the frieze. Curt Glaser bought ‘Summer Day’ which then found its way to the National Gallery of Berlin. The picture was de-accessioned as ‘Degenerate Art’ and Hermann Göring promptly appropriated it for his own collection until pressure from Hitler, who detested Munch’s art, forced him to give it up in 1939. A fuller article by Sue Prideaux can be found in  Sotheby’s catalogue ‘Important Works by Edvard Munch from the Olsen Collection’.

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