Munch’s master prints at National Gallery

The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., opened a new exhibit on Saturday of 60 of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch’s most important prints. Munch was known to change an image repeatedly over years, altering colors, lines, details and always experimenting with a variety of print media. He was a master at woodcut, lithography, and intaglio, and made constant adjustments to vary the design and impression of even his most famous pieces.

Edvard Munch, 'Madonna', 1895-1896, lithograph in black with hand coloring on green cardThe exhibit is divided into 5 sections, each section focusing on different aspects of Munch’s modifications, grouping thematically connected pieces together and allowing visitors to compare The Scream to The Scream and Madonna to Madonna.

The prints come from the National Gallery’s own collection and two privated collections: the Epstein Family Collection and the Collection of Catherine Woodard and Nelson Blitz Jr. These images have never all been collected and exhibited together before and won’t be seen anywhere else.

“Some are unique versions with coloring; they are extremely valuable, printed with different colors each time,” [Elizabeth Prelinger, an art history professor at Georgetown University] explained.

Among the master works, a series of eight Madonnas dated from 1895-1914.

The most famous is a Madonna depicted as a nude; in 1892 when it was sent to a show in Berlin it so shocked the public that the show was shut down.

“People were shocked, they felt it was virtually pornographic,” noted Prelinger, the co-curator.

Years later when he took part in a show in New York, in 1913, Munch sent off a sweeter, self-censored version of a similar Madonna.

The exhibit builds on new research on the exact dating of all the different impressions. It traces the original print made from a given woodblock, say, then pinpoints the future dates Munch printed from that woodblock making small alterations every time. Visitors will be able to see the evolution of Munch’s art and how he reinterpreted pieces in light of new ideas.

Edvard Munch: Master Prints will be open between July 31 and October 31, 2010.

Edvard Munch, 'Toward the Forest I', 1897-c 1913, color woodcut from two woodblocks, one sawn into three pieces, in blue, green, and yellow beige on wove paper

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