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Munch in Madrid


Munch in Madrid: the voice behind The Scream

James Dyson visits the Thyssen Museum to find out more about the Norwegian master of modern art

Above, left to right: The Scream lithograph; part of the Thyssen Museum’s Munch exhibition; Edvard Munch self portrait

Sunny and sociable Madrid may seem like an odd place for an exhibition about a Nordic artist best known for themes of mental anguish, but that’s exactly what the Thyssen Museum is proposing this autumn.

“Edvard Munch – Archetypes” aims to challenge our preconceptions of the Norwegian master of modern art with 80 prints and paintings that take us well beyond his most iconic work “The Scream”.

“Simplifications and misunderstandings have damaged our perception of Munch’s work,” says the Thyssen’s Artistic Director Guillermo Solana. “We have been left with the characterisation, rather like Van Gogh, that he was some kind of tormented, alcoholic depressive and his most iconic work has been turned into an emoticon.”

The museum’s own shop could be accused of doing the same thing by selling bags and motorcycle helmets emblazoned with the panic-stricken effigy. But to be fair the exhibition itself is much more varied, as I hope the video below illustrates.

Munch’s work is shown to cover the full gamut of contemporary emotional archetypes and existential obsessions. Themes of death, illness and angst certainly dominate his early life and work in the Paris and Berlin of the 1890s and 1900s, but then there is a transformation.

The exhibition’s curator Paloma Alarcó puts it this way: “Early on Munch was very close to literary circles where the heroes were people like Dostoevsky and Nietzsche. It was a very dark world. But when he returns to Norway in 1909, he becomes a self-confident and accepted painter. And this results in a more a forceful use of colour that is both vital and expressive.”

In fact, Munch overcame a mental breakdown and alcoholism to go on painting until his death in 1944 at the age of 80.

He was inspired by Gauguin and Van Gogh, and in turn influenced the German Expressionists, and even Henri Matisse.  And although a solitary man often associated with the angst of modern existence, he was just as interested in love, desire and vitality. The final room of the Thyssen exhibition features a tellingly philosophical quote from the artist himself: “In my art I have tried to explain to myself life and its meaning. I have also tried to help others to clarify their lives.”

Edvard Munch – Archetypes runs until 17 January 2016 at the Thyssen Museum in Madrid and more information can be found on the museum’s English language website. The video is produced by Reportarte.

Munch in Madrid

James Dyson is a British journalist and communications consultant based in Madrid. At, he publishes a blog on cultural and professional events, as well as communication tips and advice. His Spanish-language blog Teosiesta focuses on the similarities and differences between British and Spanish society and culture.

Green Adventures October 2015