Mars 19, 2006

Munch: Woodcarving and Icecarving

Ice Scream

Edvard Munch's craftmanship extended far beyond oil painting. In the late 1890s he created highly experimental woodcarvings that greatly influenced German expressionists. He adapted printing plates, mixed colours on plates, used randomness, etc. Often these woodcarvings were of motifs that appear in his best-known paintings, e.g. The Sick Child.

Earlier in the 1890s, he worked on many of these motifs in icecarving. Pictured above is the Ice Scream, which as you can see is a version of his most famous motif, executed on ice.

This is a very interesting piece. Note how Munch has significantly compressed the head, and how it is suggested that the hands are gripping the head, yet they do not actually touch it. Note also the complete absence of the rest of the body. This is a kind of abstraction that would not be seen again until his early 20th century work. For this reason, many experts feel that his best work was on ice.

This icecarving is preserved frozen in Vauxhall, London, by the Jackson Foundation, a private foundation set up in 1948. The foundation owns the two most well-known Munch ice-carvings, and they can be viewed only by special arrangement. The strange light you see in the picture, slightly obscuring the image, is caused by a half-open freezer door.

Munch felt that the icecarvings could only be preserved in polar regions, so in 1893 he gave the Ice Scream and the Ice Madonna (also known as the Ice Maiden) to the crew of Fram, for its first voyage North. Nansen and Johansen took the icecarvings with them when they left the ship to attempt to reach the pole. They still had them when they turned back, and laid them outside the stone hut where they spent the winter of 1895-6. The heroic duo survived by hunting walrus and polar bear, and it has been widely believed in Norway that polar bears ate the Munch icecarvings! Nothing could be further from the truth. In the summer of 1896, when Nansen and Johansen met up with the British expedition led by Frederick George Jackson, the latter explorer took the icecarvings back to London, which at that time was undergoing a mini-Ice Age, with the Thames frozen over. Thus Queen Victoria was able to view the artworks on the front lawn of Buckingham Palace.

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Posted by barry at Mars 19, 2006 10:14 FM

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