Mermaid

Edvard Munch, Norwegian, 1863 - 1944

Geography:
Made in Paris, France, Europe

Date:
1896

Medium:
Oil on canvas

Dimensions:
Trapezoidal format: 39 1/2 x 217 1/2 inches (100.3 x 552.5 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

* Gallery 158, European Art 1850-1900, first floor (Annenberg Galleries)

Accession Number:
2003-1-1

Credit Line:
Gift of Barbara B. and Theodore R. Aronson, 2003

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Label:
Edvard Munch painted Mermaid during an extended stay in Paris in 1896-97, upon receiving a commission for a large-scale decorative work from Axel Heiberg, a Norwegian industrialist. This striking image of a mermaid in the process of transforming into a woman reflects the artist's interest in Symbolism (an artistic and literary movement aimed at eliciting emotional responses from the viewer or reader) and in the themes of metamorphosis, desire, and anxiety. Munch devised the picture's unique trapezoidal format in response to Heiberg's intention to hang the mural just below the sloping rafters of a stair hall in his home in Lysaker, Norway.

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    Edvard Munch painted Mermaid, his first decorative work, in Paris in the summer of 1896, at a time of great intellectual and artistic exploration for him. Like other avant-garde artists associated with the international Symbolist style, Munch was interested in depicting the emotions and fears of the human psyche. Themes of metamorphosis, anxiety, and desire imbue this large-scale mural, designed to fit under the sloping rafters of a great hall in the home of the industrialist and collector Axel Heiberg in Lysaker, Norway. The trapezoidal painting shows a beguiling mermaid lingering in a moonlit cove, seemingly in the process of transforming into a woman. She recalls Norse myths of mermaids as melancholy beings who love humans but cannot live comfortably on land. Munch was likely influenced by these traditional stories and by Lady from the Sea, a play by the great Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen that opens with a scene of an artist painting a mermaid in the brackish water of the shore. Jennifer A. Thompson, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections, 2009.

Provenance

Axel Heiberg (1848-1932), Lysaker, Norway, commissioned from the artist for Heiberg's house outside Christiana (present-day Oslo), 1896; by inheritance to his widow Ragnhild Meyer Heiberg (1849-1937); by inheritance to their daughter Emma Heiberg Stang (1874-1938) [1]; by inheritance to her son Thomas Stang and his wife Wenche Foss (Stang), Oslo; Foss (Stang) sale, Christie's, London, July 3, 1979, no. 62; purchased by Lumley Cazalet as agent for American private collector [2]; Galerie Beyeler, Basel; sold to a private collector, late 1990's [3]; sale, Christie's, London, February 3, 2003, no. 84; purchased by Richard L. Feigen (dealer) as agent for Barbara B. and Theodore R. Aronson, Gladwyne, PA; gift to PMA, 2003. 1. The painting was removed from the Lysaker house in 1938, following the deaths of Ragnhild Meyer Heiberg and Emma Heiberg Stang. 2. Christie's sale catalogue, February 3, 2003. 3. Information from Christie's, letter dated January 28, 2003.


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