Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet recently revealed that almost 50 paintings, sketches and graphic prints – six of them done by artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) – are currently unaccounted for. The missing works by Munch include “Omega cries”, “Marat’s death”, “Crying young woman by the bed”, “Tiergarten-Berlin”, “Portrait of Mrs. R”. and the portrait “Åge Christian Gierløff”. The Munch Museum in Oslo, who initially thought they were in possession of the six missing works, holds 1,100 paintings, 18,200 graphic works, 6,800 drawings, 13 sculptures and a great number of photographs taken by Munch.
In 1936, a collection of over 900 works, among these the six Munch pictures, were gifted to the city of Oslo by businessman and art collector Rolf E. Stenersen. As there was no official Munch Museum at the time, many of the works were put up unsecured in student houses in and around Oslo. Elisabeth Munch-Ellingsen, the great-grandchild of Munch’s brother, calls the case ‘scandalous’; this is echoed by the director of the Munch Museum, Stein Olav Henrichsen, who claims the missing pictures to be a symptom of ‘how we as a society safeguard our art and cultural heritage.’ While the unsecured paintings were all removed from the student villages after the large Munch painting, The Story, was cut from its frame and stolen in 1973, Munch-Ellingsen believes that the other missing works may turn up if former residents of the student houses are contacted.
Edvard Munch is by far Norway’s most famous artist, and his paintings have previously been sold for record sums at auctions; even smaller prints are considered to be extremely valuable. Early in his career Munch experimented with both naturalistic and impressionistic painting styles after having studied under the famous naturalist painter Christian Krohg at the Royal School of Art and Design in Kristiania (present-day Oslo). However, he soon found these styles to be superficial and inadequate for his purpose, and developed his characteristically rough, symbolistic style, which was meant to represent his shifting emotional and psychological state. His most famous works frequently depict scenes of jealousy, failed eroticism and inner turmoil. The exhibition Edvard Munch: Love and Angst, exploring the painter’s artistic exploration of his own psyche, will be on at the British Museum from April.