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This exhibition will focus on the Museum’s recently acquired painting Mermaid (1896), by Norway’s most famous painter, Edvard Munch (1863–1944). An important and little-known painting, Mermaid has never been included in a museum exhibition before, having remained in private hands from the time it was executed until it came to the Museum in 2003. Munch, best known as the painter of the Scream, produced haunting, psychologically charged paintings and prints that explored human relationships, sex, anxiety, and death, with a surprising vividness and expressive use of color. Mermaid, created for a specific architectural setting in the home of a wealthy patron in Norway, portrays the mythical creature in the process of transforming into a human. Beguiling and beautiful, the mermaid looks at the viewer with a beseeching expression as if to draw him into her world.
Munch painted Mermaid during the year he spent in Paris in 1896–97, a crucial period in his career in which he experimented with new artistic activities and earned recognition as an artist. In 1896, he made Mermaid—his first decorative painting; he made woodcuts and color prints for the first time; and he also designed theater sets and programs. He associated with an international group of avant-garde artists in this art world capital and had a one-man show at Siegfried Bing's Art Nouveau Gallery, which was reviewed by numerous critics. He also immersed himself in the thriving printmaking activity in Paris and developed vital new avenues for his artistic expression through the graphic arts, which became an integral part of his artistic production. This exhibition will include approximately twenty paintings, drawings, and prints, chronicling Munch’s development of the mermaid subject and exploring relationships between Philadelphia’s painting and central themes that run throughout the artist’s work. Mermaid will be specially reframed for the exhibition and installed to suggest the original architectural context for which it was made.