Drafts for Decorations

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Drafts for Decorations

There are some five hundred sketches and drafts related to Munch’s monumental projects. Only two of these were actually executed: the decorations for the Oslo University Aula (1909–16) and those in the dining hall at Freia Chocolate Factory (1921–22).

The new aula for the university was completed in 1909, and Munch entered the competition for its decorations in the middle of May. His untraditional choice of motifs, representing the university’s faculties through depictions of ordinary men and women and Norwegian nature, was initially strongly opposed. The competition was closed in August 1911, but Munch continued working on the project, and after several years with lobbying and successful exhibitions of aula drafts in Germany and Kristiania (Oslo), the university eventually accepted the decorations. The twelve paintings were installed in September 1916. The project resulted in around 140 paintings, sketches and drafts on canvas, and more than 250 drawings (MM.T.01740).

In January 1921 Munch was approached by the director of Freia Chocolate Factory in Kristiania (Oslo), who wanted wall decorations for the factory’s two dining rooms. In the course of 1922, Munch executed twelve paintings, with adaptations of central motifs from the Frieze of Life, now set in beautiful natural surroundings. After a rebuilding in 1934, the paintings were moved to a separate wing with a large dining room, the so-called Freia Hall. This frieze became Munch’s only direct commission for decorations. A number of Munch’s original drafts are preserved (MM.T.02032).

Several monumental projects of varying extent never came to execution. The motif The Human Mountain / Towards the Light – rejected as unfit for the aula, was in 1916 extended with War/The Storm and Peace/The Rainbow as side panels. In the latter half of the 1920s, Munch worked with this trilogy on a monumental scale. However, this symbolic portrayal of man’s struggle for universal spiritual enlightenment was never fulfilled (MM.T.00179-04).

In 1917, a competition for decorations for the Bergen Stock Exchange was announced. The pictorial program was based on the city’s commercial role in trade, shipping, and industry. Inspired by his works for the university aula, Munch executed around 50 drawings, characterized by an arched upper part (following the shape of the actual walls), and with subjects for the most part close to the competition’s program (MM.T.00223-15-verso). However, it is uncertain whether he actually formally entered the competition. The commission was given to the Norwegian artist Axel Revold.

Neither did any of Munch’s preliminary sketches for the decorations for the Oslo city hall materialize into a commission. From 1927 onwards, a number of drawings describe the demolition of the old houses in Vika and the erection of the city hall. As the shape of the building was still disputed, Munch’s drawings only show a large, square construction (MM.T.01836). In 1931, when the foundation stone was finally laid, the architects’ new blueprints – with two towers – had been approved, and Munch’s drafts were outdated.