Edvard Munch, the "Schwarze Ferkel" and his Amusing Time in Berlin

5 November 1892, the exhibition of the works of the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch in Berlin began and had to be closed after only one week due to the complaints filed by the conservative public, art critics and established artists.

"Never have I had such an amusing time—it's incredible that something as innocent as painting should have created such a stir." (Edvard Munch)

Edvard Munch: "Evening on Karl Johan Street" (1892)

By the end of the 19th century, dominant art movements already were an endangered species. Stylistic pluralism was spreading. During the age of empires, officially encouraged art taught at academies and universities and exhibited in official salons was an eclecticism of established styles, subsumed as Historicism, combining Medieval Gothic, Renaissance, Classicist and Romantic elements, as well as baroque and orientalistic varieties, into a bombastic, often quite fustian big picture that hit the nerve of governments, the brass and most parts of the bourgeoisie from Washington and London to Paris, Berlin, Vienna and Moscow. But countermovements in art, equally pluralistic, existed at least since the 1850s, Realism, Naturalism, Impressionism, Symbolism and finally the first steps into Art Noveau and Expressionism, in architecture, music, literature and art. Paris and Munich where the focal points of the new art movements, the latter housed more artists than the both German speaking imperial capitals Vienna and Berlin together. But the arty types of Berlin were not idle and the Union of Berlin Artists, one of the forerunners of the various secessionist movements that would establish themselves during the 1890s, were busy organising exhibitions of artists that would not follow the official canon – one of them was Edvard Munch.

Inside the "Schwarze Ferkel" in Berlin

Edvard Munch was in his early thirties when he came to Berlin to join the local community that was made of locals as well as a considerable number of Scandinavian and Eastern European artists, the Swedish playwright Strindberg and the Polish poet Przybyszewski among them. They were regulars at the tavern “Zum Scharzen Ferkel” (Black Piglet), located Unter den Linden and already frequented by E.T.A. Hoffmann and Heinrich Heine half a century before, discussing Nietzsche and occultism and anarchy and psychology and sex. Munch’s art himself was a pluralism of styles in itself, combining the topics of the discussions at the “Schwarzes Ferkel” and experienced a development from realistic to neo-romantic and late impressionistic articulation until he arrived at his routine that would be ground-breaking for the development of expressionism.

Edvard Munch: "The Scream" (1893)

His exhibition in Berlin would be the first one-man-show the Union of Berlin Artists had organised, showing 55 of Munch’s works. The event was a succès de scandal from the first day on. The public simply had to see it, critics gossiped viciously, the artistic establishment officially filed their protests against Munch, viewing his expression as anarchistic provocation and it was the influence of Anton von Werner, Director of the Prussian Academy of Arts, that made for a closing of the exhibition after just one week. But Munch had become, all of a sudden, quite a famous artist and obviously took some inspiration from the proceedings – two of the major works of his “soul painting”, the famous “Scream” and the “Frieze of Life”, major works of Expressionism and Symbolism, came into being in Berlin, before Munch went to Paris and finally back to Norway in 1898.

Edvard Munch, “At the Roulette Table in Monte Carlo” (1892)

Depicted above is Munch’s amalgam of stylistic influences of Degas, Gaugin and van Gogh and impressions from the casinos of Monte Carlo he visited in 1891, climaxing in a very own, proto-expressionistic image congenial to Dostoevsky’s novel “The Gambler”, called “At the Roulette Table in Monte Carlo”, exhibited in Berlin in 1892, now in the Munch Museum at Oslo.

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