Edvard Munch’s story can be traced in many places in Fredrikstad. On the paternal side, his ancestry can be traced back to Søren Munch, who worked on the island of Isegran at the mouth of the Glomma, and close to today’s town centre. On his mother’s side of the family, the Bjølstads were from Fredrikstad. Edvard Munch’s mother, Laura Cathrine Munch, and his aunt, Karen Bjølstad, were born in Storgata in the town centre. The marriage of Munch’s parents took place in Glemmen Church and several members of the family are buried in the graveyard of Old Glemmen Church.
The women of the Bjølstad family were known for creative talent, which both Laura Cathrine and Karen inherited. It was passed on to Edvard Munch, who was encouraged to draw from an early age. His aunt Karen believed from the start that he would grow up to make a name for himself as an artist. She followed avidly his artistic development until the end of her life. She was herself a gifted artist, and Edvard once said of her: 'Karen could have been a great painter, if she had been given the opportunity to travel and see the world. My aunt engrossed herself in our attempts at drawing and no one contributed more – at least in my early years – to my becoming an artist.'
These are some of Munch’s works with a Fredrikstad connection:
- Drawing of Grandfather Bjølstad (early work – undated)
- Grandfather Bjølstad on his death-bed (1888, a motif from Storgaten 26)
- The Net-Mender (1888, a motif from Hankø) (in a private collection in Switzerland)
He employed his mother, Laura Cathrine, both as a living model and as the inspiration after her death for handfuls of paintings. Karen Bjølstad acted as his model for renowned works such as ‘The Sick Child’ and ‘Spring’ – both works painted at Schous Plass in Kristiania – and for many other paintings. ‘In the Fredrikstad papers we saw that your ‘Spring’ had been hung in one of the best places’, she wrote to him from Fredrikstad at Christmas 1900. ‘Perhaps you also saw it in Morgenbladet – that your monumental work, which is so grippingly beautiful – has been given pride of place in the so-called Hall of Honour for contemporary art.’