Edvard Munch's Mermaid
John Zarobell, Shelley R. Langdale, and Mark S. Tucker and Suzanne Penn
23 color and 20 black-and-white images
Edvard Munch painted Mermaid his first decorative work, in Paris in the summer of 1896, a time of great intellectual and artistic exploration for the artist. He started to make woodcuts and color prints, designed theater sets and programs, and, upon receiving a commission from the Norwegian industrialist and collector Axel Heiberg, turned his attention to decorative painting. Munch fashioned Mermaid to fit within a trapezoidal space under the rafters of a large hall in Heiberg’s house in Lysaker, Norway; it was altered to its present rectangular format in 1938 when Heiberg’s heirs had it moved. In painting Mermaid, Munch drew on his experiences in Paris, creating a figure with all the psychological complexity of his earlier art but endowed as well with new pictorial qualities. The three essays presented here discuss Mermaid in the contexts of Norwegian imagery, Symbolism, and Art Nouveau; the artist’s inventive prints of 1896–97; and his complex, highly personal views on the alteration of his work.
This publication accompanies the first public exhibition of Mermaid, which the Philadelphia Museum of Art acquired in 2003. It reproduces all the paintings, drawings, and prints that appear in the exhibition and illuminate Munch’s little-known masterpiece.
John Zarobell is Associate Curator of European Painting before 1900 and the Rodin Museum, Shelley R. Langdale in Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings, Mark S. Tucker is Vice Chair of Conservation and Senior Conservator of Paintings, and Suzanne Penn is Conservator of Paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.