Feeling It: Edvard Munch at the British Museum

Exhibition Review

  • "Edvard Munch: Love and Angst"

  • The British Museum
  • 11 Apr 2019 - 21 Jul 2019
  • Edvard Munch: Love and Angst

  • Edited by Giulia Bartrum
  • 224 pages, 186 illustrations
  • Thames & Hudson and the British Museum, 2019
  • £30 / $49.95

Edvard Munch, Self-portrait with skeleton arm (1895), lithograph, 31.16 x 41.16 cm, ©The Trustees of the British Museum.

One characteristic of recent decades has been the ever increasing quality of reproductions, both printed images and online representations. It has transformed the way we understand and approach works of art, and it enables viewers to ponder an artist’s work in the comfort of their own homes or anywhere on their mobile phones. But this convenience comes at a cost, and while I’m sure every painter would immediately point to the loss in translation as an image moves from oil-on-canvas to offset-ink-on-paper, for the printmaker, I believe, the loss as we go from the original to the reproduction is still more acute, being both subtle and profound. Printmakers, after all, go to extraordinary lengths to find paper with exactly the right color, weight and texture, and to select processes—inkjet, lithography, etching, screenprint—that match their intentions. All this precision is lost when those carefully calibrated images are reconfigured through four-color offset lithography on standard white paper. The image is present but its particularity has been lost. Rarely has this gap between the image as it is known through reproduction and the nature of the original image-bearing object been more clearly visible than in the British Museum’s “Edvard Munch: Love and Angst,” the largest exhibition of the artist’s prints in the UK for over 45 years.

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