Oslo is not only Munch’s city biographically speaking. The city also hosts the bulk of his productions. While many other artists are represented only by smaller groups of works scattered across several museums and private collections, thousands of Munch’s pieces are gathered in Oslo.
Munch’s art can be seen at two of the city’s museums. Additionally, Munch has decorated two large spaces in Oslo that are possible to visit with a bit of planning ahead.
Museums with Munch
When he died in 1944, Munch left all of his works still in his possession to the municipality of Oslo. These works got a permanent home when the Munch museum opened in 1963. The museum was after lengthy discussion built at Tøyen in the Eastern part of Oslo, close to where Munch grew up.
The Munch museum is one of the most comprehensive one-man museums in the world. The museum owns more than half of Munch’s paintings, and all of his graphic works. All the different stages in Munch’s artistic career are represented here, and the collection includes world famous paintings such as Madonna and two versions of The Scream. All works are, naturally, not always on display. Both available space, fragile canvases, and borrowings to other museums require rotations in the exhibitions. Visitors will always be able to see some highlights, however. And equally important: The large collection makes a great source for special exhibitions, which in turn yields unique and recurringly fresh opportunities of looking at Munch’s art in-depth.
The National Gallery was the first public collection ever to buy a painting from Munch, Night in Nizza, in 1891. Today the museum owns a notable set of paintings from Munch’s early career and up until 1920. The museum has its own Munch room, with masterworks such as Puberty (1894-95), Ashes (1895), The dance of life (1899), and the most well-known version of Scream, from 1893. In the National gallery it is also possible to study Munch’s art in relation to other Norwegian artists from the same period. For instance, works by Munch’s early mentor, Christian Krohg, are on display in the neighbouring room.
Comissioned decorations: Universitetets Aula and Freiasalen
The University’s Aula is located in Domus Media, one of the buildings at the University of Oslo’s downtown campus. The Aula is an extension built at the university’s 100th anniversary in 1911.
The competition to decorate the new hall was both turbulent and long lasting, but Munch eventually got the commission.The work was finished on location in 1916. Few jobs were of greater importance to Munch than the Aula decorations. At the time, the large paintings were controversial in their experimental, expressionistic style. Today they stand as monumental expressions of what Munch himself described as “the big, eternal forces”.
The Aula is only open for the public during events. Luckily, it is a popular place for concerts, and checking the Aula's concert calendar might reveal an opportunity to experience the paintings, along with good music. The Norwegian Radio Orchestra and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra are among the ensembles that regularly hold concerts here.
Freiasalen is another space in Oslo decorated by Munch. In 1920, Munch was asked by director Johan Throne Holst to decorate one of the dining halls at the Freia chocolate factory. Munch painted a series of 12 pictures, known as the Freia frieze. The paintings are bright and vital with motifs taken from everyday situations in the areas of Kragerø and Åsgårdsstrand, south of Oslo.
Freiasalen substituted for the old dining hall in 1934, and the frieze was moved here. The hall is still used as a cafeteria for the employees of the chocolate factory. Visits are limited to pre-booked guided tours, as well as a few concerts and other open events.
Sources: Frank Høifødt. 2002. Munch in Oslo. Damm; www.munch-museet.no