Melancholy (1906-1907)

Munch, Edvard (1863-1944)

Melancholy (The Reinhardt Frieze)
Tempera on canvas, 87 x 156 cm
Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin

In 1906, Munch was commissioned by the Berlin theatre director Max Reinhardt to create a picture frieze for a hall on the upper floor of the Kammerspiele. Twelve paintings were created, nine of which are now part of the collection of the Nationalgalerie. The others are in the Museum Folkwang in Essen, in the Hamburger Kunsthalle and in Oslo private collections. Originally, the works were mounted directly under the 4.70-metre-high ceiling and could be seen there until 1912. The hall was inaugurated with a celebration on New Year’s Eve 1907. Two days earlier, Munch had shown the finished frieze to his painter colleague Emil Nolde and the Hamburg judge and art collector Gustav Schiefler. The latter noted in his diary on December 29, 1907: “Munch interpreted the pictures to us: They are the everyday experiences from the rural life of the Norwegian coastal inhabitants, the girls gather on the beach and talk until the young boys from the neighborhood come rowing up in Bo[o]ten. Then they unite for board games and dancing. Finally they continue again. The girls disperse, but one sits on the beach, sunk in deep melancholy, in a red dress” (Edvard Munch and Gustav Schiefler, Briefwechsel, Band 1: 1902–1914, Hamburg 1987, p. 266, no. 368). Since the paintings were designed for high hanging, Munch dispensed with detailed interior drawings. To create the impression of a mural, he used brittle, calcareous casein tempera and coarse, unprimed canvases, which absorbed the paint strongly. Rough background structure and matt colours give the impression of old frescoes. Munch chose Åsgårdstrand as the location of the action, where he owned a summer house overlooking the Oslo Fjord. | Dieter Scholz (NNG)