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August 16th, 2005
Museum Exhibition Explores Origins and Meaning of Recently Acquired Painting by Edvard Munch

Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) is renowned for his psychologically charged paintings and prints that convey powerful emotions related to sex, anxiety, and death through a highly expressive use of color and form. In 2003, the Philadelphia Museum of Art acquired Mermaid (1896), a large, little-known painting from the artist's most creative period that captures a moment evocative of Norse mythology in which a beguiling beauty, caught between two worlds, emerges from a violet sea under a moonlit sky. From September 24 through December 31, the Museum will present Edvard Munch's Mermaid, an intimate exhibition of 25 paintings, drawings and prints, assembled from collections in Norway and the United States. It is the first exhibition to explore the origins and meaning of the mermaid in Munch's art. The exhibition, which coincides with the 2005 centennial of Norwegian independence, will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue and related events at the Museum and elsewhere in Philadelphia.

The exhibition is made possible by Aker American Shipping, a Philadelphia-based subsidiary of Norway’s Aker ASA, that builds, owns and leases ships from its headquarters at the site of the former Philadelphia Navy Yard, and a grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is also supported by gifts from anonymous benefactors. The accompanying publication is supported by an endowment for scholarly publications established at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2002 by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and matched by generous donors.

Munch's provocative representation of the mythical creature, whose powers of seduction are mingled with the natural force of the sea and the moon, shares strong affinities with the artist’s other representations of women. It resonates with feelings of desire and isolation and contains implications of metamorphosis that also pervade his work.

Anne d'Harnoncourt, Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, said: "This beautiful painting, with its emotional intensity, is a quintessential Symbolist image and a bridge between our renowned collections of Post Impressionism and Modernism. It is the first painting by this great artist to enter the Museum, and this exhibition springs from rewarding interdepartmental collaboration that brings its significance into full focus. The exhibition also salutes the exceptional generosity of our Trustee, Barbara Aronson and her husband Ted, from whom the Museum received this spectacular painting as a partial and promised gift. We are thrilled by their dedication to enhancing the Museum's collection for the benefit of our visitors."

"We are particularly thrilled to have the ideal sponsor for this exhibition, Aker American Shipping, whose parent company has been a mainstay of Norwegian industry since its establishment in Oslo in 1841," d'Harnoncourt added.

Edvard Munch (1863-1944) occupies a central place in the development of modern art. He is one of the pivotal figures to translate turn-of-the-century French art into a Northern idiom, and gave inspiration to German Expressionism. His work plays a crucial role in the Symbolist movement at the turn of the 20th century, giving voice to many intangible aspects of the human psyche.

Munch produced Mermaid in Paris during a period of intense activity when he was enjoying the early success of such paintings as The Scream (1893) and was becoming deeply engaged with printmaking, which would become integral to his artistic achievement. Among the five paintings, four drawings, and 16 prints assembled for this focused exhibition are such paintings as the haunting Summer Night: The Voice, 1893 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), and Moonlight, 1895 (National Gallery, Oslo), as well as the luminous watercolor Encounter on the Beach. Mermaid, 1896 (Munch Museum, Oslo), and the hand-colored lithograph Madonna, 1895/1896 (Epstein collection). The exhibition examines the beginnings of the mermaid theme in Munch's graphic work, its crystallization in the painting's monumental expression, and the artist's sources in Norwegian folklore and literature, including The Lady from the Sea, a play by Munch's friend Henrik Ibsen, Norway's premier dramatist. (Ibsen's play opens with the scene of a painter depicting a mermaid and revolves around a woman's longing for her first love, a mysterious man from the sea.)

In 1895, industrialist Axel Heiberg, who was also a sponsor of arctic expeditions (of Fridthof Nansen) and other Norwegian artists, commissioned Munch to paint Mermaid as a mural for his house outside Oslo. The painting was prominently located, high on a wall, with the canvas shaped to fit beneath the sloping rafters of a room housing many other works in Heiberg's collection. Permanently installed and therefore out of public view, this major painting remained largely unknown during subsequent decades when The Scream (1893) and Madonna (1894-5) were earning Munch wide renown. When Heiberg's house was sold in 1938 after his death, the painting remained with his family who removed it from its original location and brought it to the National Gallery in Oslo, where the tapering end sections of the wide trapezoidal canvas were repositioned and reworked to create the painting's present rectangular shape. For the exhibition, the painting has been reframed to suggest its original configuration as an architectural mural.

Edvard Munch's Mermaid is organized by John Zarobell, Associate Curator, Department of European Painting Before 1900, and Shelley Langdale, Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings. It is on view in Gallery 155. An issue of the Museum Bulletin accompanies the exhibition; it contains essays by Zarobell, Langdale and Mark Tucker, Vice Chairman of Conservation and Senior Conservator of Paintings, with Suzanne Penn, Conservator of Paintings.


At the Philadelphia Museum of Art:

October 7, 6 p.m.
Van Pelt Auditorium
Edvard Munch's Mermaid and fin-de siècle Paris
John Zarobell and Shelley Langdale, with K. C. Nocero, Director, The Lady from the Sea, at the Lantern Theater

October 28, 8 p.m.
Van Pelt Auditorium
Word, Image, Music
In association with the University of Pennsylvania's 2005-2006 Penn Humanities Forum on Word and Image and the museum's special exhibition of works by Edvard Munch, soprano Jody Karin Applebaum and pianist Marc-André Hamelin explore the relations among words, images, and music, through works by Liszt, Debussy, Duparc, Schumann, Janacek, Bruant, Ruch, Weill, Bolcom, and others.

Family Event
December 4, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
In collaboration with the Philadelphia Print Collaborative, the Museum hosts a day of printmaking event for kids of all ages. The event includes artist demonstrations and printmaking workshops, and gallery tours led by the curators of the Munch exhibition in conjunction with both morning and afternoon events.

Art history courses

Art Nouveau
Lecturer: Elizabeth A. Anderson, Curator of Education for Adult and Public Programs
Thursdays: 4 sessions, October 6, 13, 20, 27 1:30-2:30
Saturdays: 2 sessions, October 8 and 22 1:30-3:45

The Emergence of Expressionism in Fin de Siècle Europe
Lecturer: Adam Johnson, Staff Lecturer in Western Art
Thursdays: 4 sessions, November 3, 10, 17 and December 1
10:30-11:30 a.m.
Saturdays: 2 sessions, November 12 and December 3 10:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m.

Audio tour
An audio tour of the exhibition, including insightful commentary by the curators and conservation staff, is available at the Information Desk ($5).

Elsewhere in Philadelphia:

September 23-25
Edvard Munch: A Biography (1974)
Film by Peter Watkins
International House, 37th and Chestnut Street
October 1-November 1

The Lady from the Sea (1888)
Play by Henrik Ibsen
Lantern Theater, 10th and Locust Street
A 50% discount will be offered to Museum visitors purchasing tickets to The Lady from the Sea and Lantern Theater ticket holders will receive a reciprocal discount on Museum admission. For tickets (prices vary from $17 -$28), call (215) 829-9002 or visit the website at

Social Media
Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Tumblr/YouTube: @philamuseum

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