In the decoration of the walls of this public building Munch, who, with the exception of the series of mural paintings for special clients, heretofore had worked at making easel pictures where the content was the result of a personal evaluation of experience, now turned to the task of reaching a broad public. The formal language is simple and uncomplicated to achieve both clarity and dignity. The symbolism and the allegory are clear to the point of being familiar, for Munch ran the risk, in order to address an unsophisticated public, of using motives close to established popular visual tradition.
Moreover, the paintings have his sincere feeling for the look of his native land and the vigor and hope of its life, emotions shared by the mass of his fellow countrymen. This may be one of the reasons the murals are so highly valued by Norwegians. In any case, that Munch could have held and expressed emotions felt by everyone--and this, of course, is not restricted to the University paintings --accounts for the fact that in the parts of the world that know his work he is loved and esteemed by masses of people as is no other modern painter except Van Gogh.
In 1912 Munch received a different kind of recognition in Germany at the Cologne Sonderbund Exhibition. This was intended to be a survey of the contemporary movement in painting and also a presentation in individual retrospective exhibitions of works of painters who had special significance for the movement as a whole. This comprehensive undertaking was the inspiration for the New York Armory Show of 1913.
Munch and Picasso were given galleries to themselves as important living artists. The chief emphasis went to Van Gogh and there were also separate showings of Cézanne, Gauguin, and to represent Neo-Impressionism, H. E. Cross and Signac. Critical opinion since agrees with this contemporary estimate of Munch's historical significance, and he is regarded as one of the important sources of the German movement of Expressionism.
Munch's relation to Expressionism was as a forerunner who established attitudes and a direction of thought. As the Cologne exhibition demonstrated, Van Gogh had the largest significance for modern painting in the minds of the Germans themselves, and the Frenchmen of the end of the nineteenth century were of great importance. In comparison to these, Munch's contribution to the movement, with the exception of the technique of woodcut, was confined to a conception of art. Only occasionally are the motives or the forms of the early Expressionists traceable to Munch; in both respects the others gave the Germans much more. In portraiture, where the attitude of the painter toward his subject was a determining factor in the character of the form, the Germans' work does recall Munch.
By 1912 the differences between Munch and these younger contemporaries had become great both because of the direction of his own painting and because of that the German movement had taken. The Expressionists had taken part in the innovations of the twentieth century, often carrying to extremes elements of Post-Impressionism which had not themselves affected Munch. There was also a strong tendency among the Germans to carry the aspects of their thought that had affinity to Munch's into radically new phases. The inner forces of the world were seen in the most elemental way possible, often as something all-pervading, relatively undifferentiated, and no longer necessarily linked to a specific human situation or emotion.
Furthermore, they were interested in primitive arts, those of the natives of Africa and Oceania, and in the forms of the late medieval woodcut, preoccupations of the twentieth century that did not touch Munch. The drastic and systematic distortions and the abrupt opposition of strong colors which give many Expressionist paintings their quality of intense animation were very unlike his work. He had accompanied his paintings to Cologne. There he was pleased and surprised at the emphasis given him, and he was struck by the difference between himself and the new generation. 'Here the wildest things in Europe are collected-I am quite faded and classic,' he wrote his friend Jappe Nilssen.
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