One of the Munch Museum's most important tasks is to generate new knowledge about Edvard Munch and his art. A central part of this work is the research that is carried out in the museum. Our research projects are primarily divided into two main categories, where we distinguish between research devoted to art history and conservation research. Presented here is an introduction to some of the most important current research projects.
Edvard Munch left his collection of nearly 28 000 works of art to the City of Oslo in 1940. Also included in the bequest were 15 000 objects, consisting among other things of Munch's private library, his archive of newspaper articles, furniture and work tools. The gift also encompassed Munch's written material amounting to approximately 15 000 pages, which include comments on his own work, literary texts, general correspondence and more. This extensive and unique gift is maintained by the Munch Museum, and our continuous research based on the collection can be seen as the major thrust of the museum's activity on this front.
Art Historical Research
The systematising, cataloguing and researching of Munch's legacy has been carried out from the time the City of Oslo received the collection over 70 years ago, and the founding of the Munch Museum in 1963 facilitated an intensification of this work. Among previously realised projects of particular significance we can mention the catalogues raisonnés of Edvard Munch's graphic works (2001) and paintings (2009), both carried out under the direction of Senior Curator Gerd Woll.
As an extension of the catalogues raisonnés of graphic works and paintings, a similar research project devoted to Munch's drawings was established in 2014. The project, which encompasses approximately 7 000 drawings, will within a period of three years result in a complete web-based catalogue raisonné and a large-scale publication. Together they will make this part of Munch's oeuvre known to a large public and become an important tool for researchers around the globe.
In addition to the catalogues raisonnés, in recent years extensive work has also been devoted to digitising and disseminating Munch's writings and his correspondence with friends, family, artists and business contacts. The project, which is called eMunch.no, is now in its third phase. In this phase the letters and other correspondence that Munch received are being catalogued, digitised and published by the museum with the help of volunteers on the Internet. In addition, we are in the process of translating his writings into other languages, such as English.
Also included in the museum's research protocol are collaborations with other institutions that support and complement our own expertise, e.g. our joint project with the University of Oslo and the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, which was established in 2012. Aside from annual seminars, the collaboration encompasses the promotion of a broader international research project regarding Munch's art. The project is entitled Munch, Modernism and Modernity, and will examine Munch's position in the context of a broader art historical discussion of Modernism. Munch is often considered a key figure in the development of Symbolism and Expressionism around the year 1900. At the same time his late works, from 1910 onwards, have been seen as less important and almost marginal with respect to the further development of Modernism during the twentieth century. This project is groundbreaking as it poses questions about established perceptions of Modernism based on a figurative, Nordic artist like Munch. In addition to the participating institutions the project will involve a network of international scholars, headed by amongst others the acclaimed Munch scholar Patricia G. Berman, who is a professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.
In addition to institutional collaborations the Munch Museum is also dependent on continuously strengthening its in-house expertise. Munch Museum curator Lars Toft-Eriksen has just begun his Ph.D. research on Munch's art as part of the doctoral programme at the University of Oslo. His research project is entitled Re-reading Rolf Stenersen's Story of Munch and the Myth of Genius. As the title suggests, the project proposes a critical investigation of the concept of an artist as genius and the role this played in the reception of Munch's art. Rolf Stenersen's popular book Edvard Munch: Close-up of a Genius (1944) played a decisive role in this regard, and will be analysed. The University of Oslo recently awarded a Ph.D. grant devoted to Munch's art to Gustav Jørgen Pedersen. His project, On the Modern Life of the Soul: Edvard Munch and the Question of Human Existence, will examine how the ideas related to human existence during the fin-de-siècle period are expressed in some of Munch's early pictures.
A major task in the Munch Museum's conservation practice is to acquire new knowledge about Edvard Munch's works and the materials he employed. This implies, among other things, analyses of the materials, degradation products and the contents of previously applied components. The result of such analyses often increases the possibilities of finding the best suitable methods for preserving Munch's art for posterity.
To take an example, we can mention Munch's painting Workers in Snow (1913-15). This work has been chosen on numerous occasions for both in-house and external exhibitions, a request which we have been forced to decline due to its poor condition. The painting is a particularly good illustration of the consequences of Munch's working methods, material use and previous conservation treatment. The poor condition of many of his works has often been explained by the fact that they were painted or stored outdoors. In the project where we examine and treat Workers in Snow, however, we focus on the significance that the materials and the previous treatment may have for the work's present condition.
Previous conservation treatment is the focus of another project as well. Many of Munch's paintings were subjected to more or less standard treatment in the period following his death. Among other things, a strip of paper was glued along the edges of all stretched canvases in order to stabilise the paint layers and the support material. Over time the excess of the glue that was used has caused damage in the paint layers along the edges of the paintings. Finding methods for removing the glue without simultaneously damaging the original paint has been a longstanding challenge. The aim of the project has been to test which cleaning methods can be used without incurring new damage to the paintings.
Edvard Munch's art is in great demand, and certain paintings are exhibited virtually continuously. This can lead to a conflict between preserving and disseminating the artworks. Fading and discolouration have been observed in a number of the paintings in the Munch Museum's collection. How did this happen – and why? In an upcoming project we will investigate a selection of paintings and analyse the consequences that light exposure has had for them. The aim is to develop specific recommendations regarding maximum length of exposure, for example over a period of five to ten years.