Los Angeles

“The Graphic Work of Edvard Munch”

Pomona College

Occasionally, one is privileged to see a near-perfect art exhibition, and the Edvard Munch show at the Pomona College Gallery is such a presentation. This extremely fine collection of graphic works by the famous Norwegian expressionist was first compiled by J. B. Neumann, then brought to this country by Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe. Nine prints from the collection were shown in the Munch print show organized by the Museum of Modern Art in 1957, but the current exhibition presents the whole of the collection for the first time in this country.

Each phase of Munch’s graphic oeuvre is impressively documented, from the early etchings of 1894 through a late lithographed self portrait of 1932. Most of the traditional favorites are presented in the exhibition—“Self Portrait” (Schiefler #31), “Vampire” (Sch. #34), and “The Cry” (Sch. #32), all lithographs of 1895—as well as some less frequently seen prints, such as an example from the lithographed album “Alpha and Omega,” 1908–09 (Sch. #306–327) and a unique impression of “Self Portrait Standing,” 1896, monotyped in black and blue from a single woodblock (not mentioned in Schiefler).

Generally recognized as one of the most important artists working toward the end of the 19th century, Edvard Munch exerted an influence on art which is still felt today. One room of the Pomona College Gallery is devoted to the documentation of this influence and presents a group of prints by artists who drew inspiration from Munch’s prints. Examples of the work of such great artists as Enrich Heckel, Emil Nolde, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Karl Schmidt-Rotluff indicate the scope of Munch’s influence. Also included in this section are prints by Paul Gauguin and Felix Valloton, and a Japanese print, documenting the major sources of influence on Munch’s graphic work. His woodcuts reflect an admiration for Gauguin’s use of the texture of the wood to contrast with his rough carving technique. A similarity can also be seen in the use of intense, vibrant color in broad, flat areas. Felix Valloton influenced Munch’s use of the dramatic composition, apparent in the massing of large areas of black and white. Munch also admired the great woodcut tradition of Japan as manifested in the work of such masters as Hiroshige, Hokusai, and Utamaro.

Attentive to the smallest detail, the Pomona Art Gallery has made available books on Edvard Munch for those interested in pursuing the factors which helped to shape the direction of his graphic oeuvre: the social and intellectual climate which existed toward the end of the 19th century; the events in Munch’s personal life which caused his preoccupation with the themes of sickness, death, and the nature of woman; and the nature of his own mystical and pessimistic temperament.

The pace of the exhibition is leisurely, the attitude scholarly. This is, without a doubt, one of the finest exhibitions seen in southern California for many years.

Virginia Allen