Edvard Munch’s applications for endowment grants and the government stipend for artists

On 5 March 1884, the famous painter Frits Thaulow, who was also a distant relative, wrote to Edvard Munch’s father and offered to pay for a trip for the young painter, whose works “bear witness to a pronounced artistic talent […] which is the reason for my wish to provide him with the opportunity to see the Paris Salon”. The offer was meant as a small private travel grant in the amount of 300 kroner, for living expenses and a voyage by ship to Paris via Antwerp. Thaulow had written to Christian Krohg, who also believed that such a trip would be “extremely advantageous and desirable for Munch, it will help him to evolve and teach him to become diligent”. At the time, Munch was seriously ill and bedridden, however, and the trip had to be postponed to the following year.

Encouraged by Thaulow’s goodwill, Munch applied to the Ministry of Church Affairs and Education a few weeks later for “a portion of 400 kroner from the Schæffer Endowment”. He writes in his application that he has “for about three years attended the Royal School of Design and, alongside of that, worked on his own – albeit recently under the kind instruction of an older artist”. Customs Deputy Schäffer’s endowment was more or less the only possibility for young artists at the outset of their career to obtain funds for continued studies abroad. The drawing teacher, Julius Middelthun, whom Munch was still in contact with, and who now sat in the committee in charge of distributing the endowment grants, wrote to Munch in April 1884 saying that he need not worry when it came to the grant, but nevertheless asked him to “obtain a recommendation from one of our figure painters” and to forward it to him. Munch received excellent recommendations from “the elder instructor” Krohg and from Eilif Petersen, which he added to his application. In the middle of June 1884 Middelthun was able to announce in a letter that Munch was the no. 1 nominee. It wasn’t until September that the official confirmation arrived from the Ministry announcing that he was awarded 500 kroner to further his art education. Munch applied to the Schäffer Endowment again the following year and in September 1885 he was awarded the same amount.

In 1886 he applied for a grant from the Houen Endowment. Munch is included on the application list, which is in a file in the National Archives. Munch’s application has been lost and it is not known who was nominated for the grant. It is believed that he applied to the Johan Finnes endowment in 1887. A draft of an application is in the archives of the Munch Museum, along with a somewhat ambivalent recommendation from Erik Werenskiold.

. MM N 3673, fol. 1r

MM N 3673, fol. 1r

It wasn’t until May 1888, when Edvard Munch was 25 years old, that he applied for the Government Stipend for Artists, this time with a laudatory recommendation from Werenskiold. The application is addressed: “To the King”, and in it, Munch points out that he has won the Schäffer endowment twice and that he has benefited greatly from the private grant for artists. He did not receive the stipend that year, but he used the application to apply the following year, this time with a new recommendation. With considerable self-confidence he formulated the wording himself, before someone else’s handwriting completed the recommendation, almost certainly dictated by Munch himself. He mentions among other things his first solo exhibition, “the present exhibition in the Student Union Hall”. An impressive list of persons signed in their own handwriting: Hans Heyerdahl, Amaldus Nielsen, Christian Krohg, Fredrik Borgen, Theodor Kittelsen and Christian Skredsvig. On 5 June 1889 he was nominated as the no. 1 candidate for the Government stipend. Eilif Peterssen and Munch’s relative, the painter Edvard Diriks, were among the members of the committee.

In August 1890 Munch was again nominated as the no. 1 candidate for the Government stipend, which was in the amount of 1500 kroner “to continue your artistic education abroad”. The application has been lost but he most likely listed as his merits his sojourn in Paris and his studies under Bonnat, his yearly participation at the Autumn Exhibition and not least his solo exhibition at the Student Union the preceding year. In October he sent a request to the Ministry asking that half of the stipend be released, as he would soon be returning to Paris to continue his studies.

Munch became ill, however, and was confined to a hospital in Le Havre during November, and did not travel on to Paris and Nice until January 1891. While in Nice, he applied once again in March 1891 for the Government stipend, but this time without recommendations. In the application he adds that he had been seriously ill and in hospital for a long period of time and that the benefits from his studies had therefore not been as great as expected. A new allocation for “a sojourn next year in Paris or Florence would consolidate the benefits I have gained from my sojourn in Paris during the last year”. He had sent an application formulated in a similar way to the Houen Endowment a few weeks earlier. The application has been lost, but there is a draft of it in the archives of the Munch Museum and Munch appears as no. 1 on the list of applicants, which is preserved in the National Archives. It is not known who was nominated for the grant.

He was nominated for a Government Stipend a third time: “Munch was nominated for a renewed stipend by Werenskiold […]”. Even though he had received the stipend two years in a row, with the illness during the previous fall as the grounds for their decision, he was nominated as no. 2 after the painter Sven Jørgensen by five votes. Eilif Peterssen, Erik Werenskiold, Peter Nicolai Arbo, Jakob Gløersen and Gerhard Munthe gave their vote to Munch. The stipend was again in the amount of 1500 kroner.

The allocation of the Government stipend for artists to Edvard Munch for the third time caused a stir, and an indignant and disgruntled Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson complained in Dagbladet that, in Munch’s case, the stipend had been used as sick leave compensation at the health resort Nice. Frits Thaulow defended Munch in the same newspaper and Munch himself wrote a very succinct reply a couple of weeks later in the same newspaper:

“During my last trip I was struck with an acute illness, and for this reason I was not able to fully benefit from my sojourn; it was partly due to this that I received it again, and not because I was still sick.”