Eerie Munch prints get US National Gallery retrospective

From "The Scream" to "The Kiss" and a series of Madonnas, the National Gallery of Art opened an exhibit Saturday exploring the haunting imagery and motifs of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch.

Munch, who wrote that sickness, madness and death were angels that haunted him, delivers no shortage of darkness in this set of almost 60 lithographs on view at the premier US gallery, entitled Master Prints.

"What is astonishing in this case is the consistent quality of all these works and they come from, besides the National Gallery of Art's collection, two additional private collections. These are works that can't be seen anywhere else," said Elizabeth Prelinger, an art history professor at Georgetown University.

"Some are unique versions with coloring; they are extremely valuable, printed with different colors each time," she explained.

Among the master works, a series of eight Madonnas dated from 1895-1914.

The most famous is a Madonna depicted as a nude; in 1892 when it was sent to a show in Berlin it so shocked the public that the show was shut down.

"People were shocked, they felt it was virtually pornographic," noted Prelinger, the co-curator.

Years later when he took part in a show in New York, in 1913, Munch sent off a sweeter, self-censored version of a similar Madonna.

Childhood memories of his mother and sister's death from tuberculosis, his stay in a psychiatric hospital, his intense romances and a close relationship with alcohol all factor in these works by Munch.

Trained largely in Paris, where he was influenced by the works of Gaughin and Van Gogh, Munch dies in Norway at 81.

Last week one of his Madonnas was picked up at auction in London for 1.5 million euros.

"The Scream," with its slight, gaping figure of a man cupping its head in its hands, is a storied work both in art and in crime.

On August 22, 2004, two armed masked men burst into the Munch museum in Oslo in broad daylight and stole the "Scream" and also the "Madonna" paintings before making off in a getaway car driven by a third man.

The two works were recovered on August 31, 2006, but no details were given on where and how they were found.

In June 2009 a court in Oslo sentenced a Norwegian man to two and a half years behind bars for his role in the theft of "The Scream."

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