Edvard Munch’s Writings after 1944

Fragments of a Research and Publication Chronicle



In an interview in Social-Demokraten in the fall of 1947, in connection with the launching of a book, the Director of the City of Oslo Art Collections Johan Langaard announced: “I find it extremely important that the book is being published. It is the first step towards what will be the aim of the Munch Museum: To present the Collected Material, so that everyone – and not only the initiated few – may study Munch. The next step is to publish his Letters. He kept up an enormous Correspondence ...”.1 A little later the interviewer inquires about Rolf Stenersen’s book about Munch: “Do you find the Book rather anecdotal?” To this Langaard replied: “It is difficult to verify. That is why we must have all of the Material on Munch brought to light. When everything is unravelled one day, then one will be able to write the most remarkable Book about Munch. ... a Book for the People.”

In March 1946 Johan Henrik Langaard was appointed Director of the newly established municipal agency called the City of Oslo Art Collections, created among other things to administer Edvard Munch’s donation to the City of Oslo. In the summer of the same year the administration installed itself in the building that housed The Museum of Applied Art in St. Olav’s Street. From this post he began the work of registering and conserving the Munch collection at Ekely, and it was here the work began of organising Edvard Munch’s collection of correspondence. The collection not only encompassed letters and drafts from Munch’s hand, but several thousand letters from friends, acquaintances and business associates as well. Langaard immediately began the task of transcribing these, and put out a search for unknown Munch correspondence. This demanding job was motivated by the knowledge that the correspondence consisted of vital research material for the new Munch Museum, for both short-term and long-term publications. It appears that he was quite conscious of giving the museum a clear profile as a research and presentation centre for Munch’s art – long before it was in place.

The Letters – The First Years

Rolf Stenersen’s bok Edvard Munch. Close-Up of a Genius was published in a Swedish edition as early as November 1944. It was not until a year later, in December 1945, that it came out in Norwegian and Danish. The book created a stir and was primarily well received. Munch’s sister Inger, however, reacted very negatively to some of the content, which she perceived as being untrue, inaccurate and outright mistaken. The book has nevertheless remained standing as the most popular amongst the biographical and anecdotal literature on the artist, and has over the years been published in many editions and translated into several languages. The following year another anecdotal memoir was published: Edvard Munch som vi kjente ham. Vennene forteller (1946) (Edvard Munch as we knew him. As Told by His Friends), written among others by Professor Kristian Schreiner, the model Birgit Prestøe, the journalist and writer Christian Gierløff and the painter Ludvig Ravensberg. The first collection of Munch’s correspondence was likewise published: Jappe Nilssen. Efterlatte brev og kritikker (Edvard Munch and Jappe Nilssen. Posthumous letters and reviews), edited and published by Erna Holmboe Bang, Jappe Nilssen’s niece.

. CAT. 40. ROLF STENERSEN 1925–26


Her anger and irritation over Stenersen’s book most likely spurred Inger Munch to quickly initiate the task of going through the family correspondence with the intention of publishing it. Edvard Munch left his entire collection of correspondence to Inger Munch, and she may have had an oral agreement with her brother to take care of it in the event of his death. She contacted Johan Langaard early on, and he must have immediately shown interest and a willingness to support such a publication. She took on the job of editing herself, with Erna Holmboe Bang as her assistant. Creating order out of the vast amount of correspondence began in the summer of 1947, but weighed down and weary from the enormous task of editing, Inger Munch little by little left the whole collection to the City of Oslo Art Collections: “All of the ‘private’ letters have been organised in a suitcase and placed in the vault in Bank og Kreditkassen. I have transcribed the small journals, often at night with eyeglasses and a magnifying glass. Erna has had a very difficult job transcribing and organising [...]”.2

It was also planned that Holmboe Bang would write a long biographical introduction to the book, in which Inger Munch’s memoirs were to be integrated. The introduction was most likely removed due to Inger Munch’s displeasure: “Erna wished to be the Munch biographer herself. [...] I look forward to when You shall open the suitcase in the bank and begin studying the letters there. [...] There are many copies of his letters to friends abroad. They are rather difficult to decipher. You must absolutely be the Munch biographer.”3

Langaard also wished to have the book illustrated with drawings that appeared in the collection of letters, portraits that Munch had painted of the persons mentioned, and photographs taken by Munch himself at various points in time. This plan was discarded due to the excessive cost. Holmboe Bang was to compile the index of names and notes, but due to differences of opinion Langaard ended up taking on the task himself: “the index of names and facts, together with all of the footnotes shall of course be worked out here, just as I will take responsibility for the pagination or chronological order, as well as for the orthography, deletions, etc.”4

The publication was greatly delayed because of internal problems at the publishing house, so the book was not published until the spring of 1949. In the foreword Langaard gives an account of future publication and research plans: “As one will see, I am planning the most complete edition possible of all of the documents that concern Munch”, and he mentions among other things a Munch bibliography and the publication of press clippings and reviews stemming from Norway and abroad, and concludes: “In short, I can see a collection of primary source material filling several volumes.” But when it came to the notebooks and the literary sketches the tone is quite different: “The situation is otherwise when it comes to Munch’s drafts of literary works. These he left to the City of Oslo, where the informed judgement of experts shall determine whether and to what extent these shall be made public” (ill. 22).5 One may perhaps question the contradiction between a willingness to publish the collections of letters as opposed to the reluctance to make public the literary notes, but this was probably due to the traditional perception of letter writing as a conventional and less private genre, while journals and literary sketches contained descriptions of extremely private and sensitive thoughts and emotions.



In September 1952, Johan Langaard presented the planned publication of a new selection of Edvard Munch’s letters in a memo to the Board of the City of Oslo Art Collections. The request contains several fundamental thoughts and formulations that Langaard had reiterated on different occasions during that period; in publications and newspaper articles, and in letters to scholars as well as others: “It goes without saying that the collection [of correspondence] is the most important primary source for a study of the artist’s life and work, and a material that will first be made available to researchers around the world through publication. Based on this understanding the Art Collections published a first selection of the correspondence in 1949: Edvard Munch’s letters. The Family. (Munch Museum Manuscripts no. 1) [...] The Munch research which has subsequently resulted from the Art Collections’ exhibition activity abroad has been stimulated greatly, with the result that Munch’s position in art history in earnest is in the process of becoming consolidated on a widespread basis.”6 Langaard continues by referring to the Universities of Uppsala and New York, which have approved the study of Munch’s art as worthy of doctoral dissertations by Gösta Svenæus and Roy A. Boe, as well as by Frederick B. Deknatel at Harvard University, who was planning to resume his Munch research. Langaard’s focus on research, publishing and extensive exhibition activity, particularly abroad, undoubtedly laid the foundation for the artist’s position and reputation in the writing of post-war art history. And it led to Munch’s reputation being spread to the greater public around the world.

The Linde Letters

Langaard got in touch with the sons of art patron and medical doctor Max Linde through the German legation, and in June 1953 he wrote a letter to Helmut Linde in which he launched the idea of publishing his father’s letters to Munch, and that he would like to include the letters of the businessman and art collector Albert Kollmann in the same publication. Langaard informs him that Inger Munch has donated the letters to the City of Oslo Art Collections, and that he considers the collection of letters a most important primary source material for Munch research. He also points to the publication of the family letters which he has enclosed, and then asks for the Linde family’s permission to publish. He received the family’s permission and Helmut Linde took on the task of locating the letters from Munch to Max Linde. He did not know what had happened to the letters during the war – it was possible that his father had destroyed them just before his death in 1940. The letters eventually turned up and are now housed in the Lübeck City Library.



On the other hand, many of Edvard Munch’s letters to German friends and business associates, such as Paul and Bruno Cassirer in Berlin and the art dealer Commeter in Hamburg, have never been found, as they were most likely lost during the events of the war. A few sentences in a letter from Ambassador Hans Juell to the Munch Museum’s Chief Curator Arne Eggum says a lot about the fate of private and public collections of documents in the climate of postwar German cities: “I was associated with the Norwegian Military Mission in Berlin as a lieutenant colonel after the war. Antiquarian bookshops would sprout up amidst the ruins, for the Germans were often forced to sell whatever they could spare in order to obtain a bit of food. It is therefore possible that a private individual has come to me with the letter from Munch in order to sell it.”7

Langaard made great efforts to find Kollmann’s heirs through a number of channels, among them the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and he did not refrain from mentioning the problem in letters to several German contacts, among them Helmut Linde and Carl Georg Heise at Hamburger Kunsthalle. He was never able to make contact with Kollmann’s heirs, however: “This plan unfortunately had to be abandoned because I have not succeeded in getting in touch with the owners of the copyright to these letters, Kollmann’s heirs.”8 In 1953, 109 letters from Edvard Munch to Albert Kollmann were advertised for sale at an auction in Berlin. The City of Oslo Art Collections were able to bid up to 600 German marks, but did not win the bid. Langaard kept close track of the whereabouts of the letters: they were sold to a Swedish buyer, further to a buyer in Denmark, and finally turned up in Cappelen’s antiquarian bookshop in Oslo in 1956, where they were sold to a private Norwegian collector for 9.200 kroner.

Because Langaard hopefully awaited news about Kollmann’s heirs, the publication of the Linde letters was delayed until the following year. Because of this the Art Collections decided in 1953 to support the publication of Gösta Svenæus’ Idé och innehåll i Edvard Munchs konst (Idea and Content in Edvard Munch’s Art) in a series published by the periodical Kunst og Kultur with 5.000 kroner: “[...] since the book in my eyes, viewed against the backdrop of the present literature on the artist, elevates the research on Munch to a new level.”9 Langaard most likely wished to divert attention away from the post-war anecdotal literature on Munch. Christian Gierløff’s memoirs Edvard Munch selv (Edvard Munch Himself), was published that same year, it too with a selection of correspondence. Svenæus thanked the Art Collections and Langaard for the financial support for the publication and for the helpful research opportunities: “Director Langaard has himself introduced me to the singularly interesting collection out at Ekely, and it is on this material that my research is built.”10

An abundance of literature on Munch continued to be published throughout the 50s: monographs and articles by several foreign and Norwegian authors and a number of catalogues in connection with exhibitions around the world, many containing articles and forewords by Langaard himself.

The Ingrid Lindbäck Langaard Case

In 1960, however, the City of Oslo Art Collections and the Director himself would come under scrutiny when his ex-wife Ingrid Lindbäck Langaard published the comprehensive monograph Edvard Munch. Modningsår. En studie i tidlig ekspresjonisme og symbolisme (Edvard Munch. The Maturation Years. A Study in Early Expressionism and Symbolism). On 29 October 1960, the sculptor and art critic Arne Durban reviewed the book in laudatory terms in Morgenposten. In an accompanying article in the same newspaper he mentions a concluding passage in the foreword of the book, where Ingrid Lindbäck Langaard writes; “However I have not had access to Munch’s letters, journals or notes, nor to his works in the City of Oslo Art Collections. This would have spared me much time and trouble.” Durban points to the acknowledgements in Svenæus’ book from 1953 and in Otto Lous Mohr’s book regarding Munch’s wall decorations in the festival hall of the University of Oslo, which was also published in 1960. He therefore asked the Director if he could disprove this and demanded that the Oslo City Council get involved in the case and determine whether the Art Collections should be administered in such a personal and arbitrary manner.

Johan Langaard responded a few days later with a detailed rebuttal.11 He claimed that no one as yet had been given free access to the documents and pointed to the fact that they were often very private in character, and to the grounds of Edvard Munch’s condition that the notes were “to be examined after my death by broad-minded understanding men”. He points further to the condition of the documents in the light of conservation requirements and the necessity of control and security. In addition, the Art Collections had as yet no venues available for the purpose of research. But he goes on to encourage the goal of making the documents available to everyone, to the extent that it is compatible with discretion, and says that the work of transcribing the documents continues systematically. He claims further that Svenæus and Mohr “hardly have more to be grateful for than the opportunity to check a few precise facts that they wished to verify with certainty. [...] The writer Ingrid Langaard has never asked for such assistance. On the other hand, the writer applied some time ago for permission to have free access to the documents as well as to conduct her research of these in the offices of the Art Collections. That this application was denied is self-evident [...]”.12

Ingrid Langaard’s response came two days later. She recounts that as early as 1948, after studying art history for eight years under Professor Anders Bugge, she proposed her very necessary request to the Art Collections on behalf of her dissertation and book, and was flatly refused without grounds. She concludes: “Edvard Munch has unconditionally left his enormous life work in the care of the City of Oslo Art Collections, but it hardly follows that the Director can personally decide who is allowed access to research.”13 Johan Langaard replied briefly three days later and recommended rather curtly “that she read my contribution to the debate from the 19th of this month once more”.14

The case did not end there, however. Six months later Arne Durban – who moreover had his home and studio in the artist colony at Ekely – was again on the warpath. In a review of Johan Langaard and Reidar Revold’s book on the Oslo University festival hall decorations, he repeated and enlarged on his accusations against Langaard: “[...] The Director of the City of Oslo Art Collections has helped himself to the abundant material from the Munch collections, which he has access to himself, but which he has prevented other scholars from using. [...] What is strange is that the Board of the City of Oslo Art Collections has not dealt with this matter and actually finds it respectable that the Director helps himself (and a few favourites) and makes money on the treasure he has been hired to administer [...].”15 Langaard informed the editorial staff of Morgenposten that he had already six months previously refuted the accusations, which had now taken on such an insulting tone that he did not intend to reply once more. However, he wished the readers to know that he had called a meeting of the Board of the Art Collections in order to confront the matter.16

Langaard, obviously uncomfortable with the situation, also turned to the Association of Art Historians and asked for a declaration of support. And he did receive a statement from the Association’s scholarly committee, signed by Knut Berg: “The committee believes that it must be the one who has responsibility for a museum, who shall judge whether the condition of the museum’s collections is such that scholars can be given free access to them. The committee cannot see that Director Johan H. Langaard has broken any generally recognised principle by himself or in collaboration with others publishing material from the City of Oslo Art Collections.”17 The Director was “genuinely grateful” for the support and he would with the “utmost pleasure” present it to the Board.18

In a lengthy memo to the Board of the Art Collections prior to the meeting, he repeated most of the arguments from the newspaper article the previous year, and attempted furthermore to clarify his role as head of the museum, scholar and educator:

In the course of this work [...] my knowledge about Munch’s art, etc. has of course automatically become greater and more abundant. This knowledge I have tirelessly done my best to allow all scholars to benefit from in one of two ways: either by giving them all of the information they have asked me for, to the best of my ability, or by making my knowledge available to them in publications [...]. I am consequently unaware of having misused my position to monopolise the use either of documents or of visual material for my own benefit. On the other hand, I believe that, by virtue of my position, I have a moral obligation to know more than everyone else about my work, and furthermore, that in my capacity as art historian I must have free access to publishing my scholarly work to the extent I feel the urge to, and am capable of. And I even feel free to say that this opinion of mine at least in principle serves the Munch Collection’s prestige and all interested scholars to the same degree as myself.19

This manner of expression might at first seem arrogant, but on closer consideration it touches on something that is perhaps in the nature of a museum devoted to a sole artist: a more or less homogenous art collection often including a large collection of documents, which provides the opportunity for a deeply felt fascination coupled with the obligation and necessity to study and disseminate this material. This obligation has been met by the employees of the Munch Museum during all of the subsequent years, and similar accusations have also been presented in the media at regular intervals.

Perhaps it was partly due to the controversies surrounding this case that the Munch Scholarship was established in connection with the inauguration of the museum in 1963. The scholarship, which is devoted to the research of Edvard Munch’s art, has been allocated every other year since then, and during the 1960s it was awarded to Scandinavian scholars such as Gösta Svenæus in 1963.

Collecting and Publishing the Letters

Langaard and his secretaries, and later also Curator Reidar Revold, continued the work of organising and transcribing the letters throughout the 1950s, alongside of restoring and registering the art collection at Ekely – in addition to planning the museum. An important part of organising the material was to put out a search for and acquire letters by Munch from private individuals and public archives abroad. Many found their way to the City of Oslo Art Collections, later the Munch Museum, as gifts in the form of photocopies and return favours, or via acquisitions and bartering. The following is an account of some of them.20

In the Art Collections’ annual report for 1946–50 a pleased Director was able to tell of several gifts and donations in addition to Inger Munch’s enormous donation. The first was in fact four Munch letters from the recipient, the Swiss painter A.H. Pellegrini, as early as in 1947. Another important and large donation of correspondence was added to the collection in 1950: 69 letters from Munch to his friend, the Museum Director and biographer Jens Thiis. In 1955 the museum received transcripts of letters from Munch to Helge Rode from his son.

Alongside of this, the correspondence addressed to Munch was examined systematically to organise it and put out a search for the letters that corresponded to those from Munch’s hand. In 1950 and again in 1960, Johan Langaard put out a search for letters from Edvard Munch to the English composer Frederick Delius without result. These were located in 1964, in the Delius Trust in England, and were exchanged with photocopies of Delius’s letters in the Munch Museum. The exchange of letters was first published in England in 1983.

As early as in 1960, Langaard put out a search for letters from Edvard Munch to Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche – the philosopher’s infamous sister – in the Goethe-Schiller Archive in Weimar in what was then East Germany. The request was, not surprisingly, rebuked on the grounds that that section of the archives was restricted. The Munch Museum did not receive copies of the letters until 1989, via an historian from the German state of Thuringia. The letters gained attention in the press in 2004, among other things in the Norwegian Broadcasting Company’s evening news report, when a Norwegian historian claimed to have “discovered” them in the archives in Weimar “for the first time”.

In 1966 Edvard Munch’s letters to his friend, the poet Emanuel Goldstein, were acquired from an antiquarian bookshop in Copenhagen for 6.200 Danish kroner. In a note to the City of Oslo’s Cultural Committee, Curator Reidar Revold emphasised that the letters: “encompass a number of concrete facts and a number of observations that are extremely useful for Munch research.” The Munch-Goldstein correspondence was intended to be published relatively soon after the acquisition. The letters were edited, set in type and sent to the printers in 1969, but the printing was most likely put on ice and later shelved due to the exposure of the so-called Revold case.21

Photocopies of an important collection of letters came into the hands of the Munch Museum in 1970 from the Lübeck City Library, which in 1968 had acquired 36 letters from Edvard Munch to Max Linde. Copies of Munch’s letters to the Swedish banker Ernest Thiel came to the museum from Thielska Galleriet in Stockholm, but not until 1977. These had been advertised for by Langaard as early as 1960.

Throughout the years an interest has also been expressed by foreign and in particular German publishing houses to publish both a translation of the book of family correspondence and other publications of the correspondence. In 1979, for example, Belser Verlag in Stuttgart advertised in German newspapers for unknown and unpublished Munch letters since they “were preparing a publication of Edvard Munch’s correspondence”. Most of these plans never amounted to anything, most likely because the Munch Museum would have had an extremely taxing job of coordinating so many external collaborations. The Art Collections’ Director at the time, Alf Bøe, wrote about various publication plans for the future in a memo in January 1977. Among them, the publication of the Munch-Goldstein correspondence was to be taken up again. It was still set in type at Kirste’s printing house. Bøe also had plans for a dual publication of the correspondence between Edvard Munch and Jens Thiis and Gustav Vigeland and Thiis. None of the plans were carried out, most likely for economic reasons. The Munch Museum’s plans for publishing the Edvard Munch-Gustav Schiefler correspondence was also begun at this time, and the two volumes were published ten years later in 1987–90.



The Munch Museum has received a number of offers to buy letters from antiquarian dealers and auction houses and from private individuals. In 1978 an offer was received from the German auction house Kornfeld & Klipstein, which had nine letters from Edvard Munch to the art historian Curt Glaser for sale that they offered in exchange for graphic works, but the museum declined the offer. Kornfeld & Klipstein had offered the same letters for sale already in 1958.

Edvard Munch’s testament opened up for the sale of doublet impressions of some of the prints in the collection, and this was made use of through “bartering” deals several times during the 1980s, and for the large Munch lottery in 1983, in order to collect money for the museum’s planned annex. 80 letters and postcards from Edvard Munch to his friend and relative Ludvig Ravensberg, together with three original photographs by Edvard Munch, were thus exchanged for six lithographs that same year. A recommendation was solicited from the Director of the National Gallery: “We are not qualified to evaluate the price that has been proposed for the letters. They are nevertheless undoubtedly of great value for research purposes, and will be significant for the museum as the centre for all Munch research that it is.” Two large acquisitions of Munch correspondence were likewise made in 1985. In June, a total of 103 letters from Edvard Munch to Albert Kollmann were exchanged for four lithographs. After many years the much desired letters finally came into the Munch Museum’s possession. That same fall, 43 letters, notes and postcards from Edvard Munch to Sigurd Høst were exchanged for the lithograph Self- Portrait with Bottle of Wine. Once again a recommendation was solicited from the Director of the National Gallery, Knut Berg.

Edvard Munch’s Notes and Literary Texts – The First Years



Many have asked themselves how the notes, journals and literary texts were stored and treated during the first years after Munch’s death. It has been speculated whether some of the papers were burned, and Inger Munch in particular has been accused of having “edited” notes and letters in this manner.

At the end of the 1920s Munch met Kristian Schreiner, medical doctor and professor of anatomy, who eventually became Munch’s personal doctor; they became good friends and Munch made several portraits of him. In all probability the doctor’s role as a calm and sober-minded scientist was the reason Munch gave him the task of preserving and examining the notes and the literary texts after his death. In a letter of February 1949 from Langaard to Schreiner he asks whether it is true that Schreiner has some of Munch’s drafts of literary texts in his possession; a piece of information he has been given by Inger Munch. Langaard had up to this point believed that all of the notes were in the custody of the City of Oslo Art Collections. Schreiner’s response is elaborate and describes part of the story in detail:22

Edvard Munch spoke to me many times about his notes. The first time he mentioned anything about how they should be dealt with in the future, he said that Instructor Høst and I should go through them and determine which parts should be made public, and which should be incinerated. Later the arrangement was that I alone should take on the task – even though I was hardly the right person for the job. No objections could sway him, however, and he attached his decision to one of the pages of the notes.
This written instruction of his was presented in a meeting in probate court, where Criminal Court Judge Ustvedt, Probate Steward Stenerud, Attorney Roede and I were present. The probate court concluded that the notes should in accordance with Munch’s wishes for the time being be left to me, and it was mentioned that, if I wished, I could seek help in examining the notes from knowledgeable men. We were of course all aware that ownership rights to the notes belonged to the municipality.
I began examining them immediately, but due to other work did not get far. When Director Willoch phoned me and asked me for permission to look at the notes, I handed over all of the notebooks that I had gone through. The remainder are kept in my custody in the vault in the cellar at the University’s Anatomy Institute.
I have sabotaged Munch’s instruction to me to burn the sections that have to do with persons who are mentioned by name. I do not feel that an individual person can take on such a responsibility. All of the notes are therefore in the condition they were when they were handed over to me. One can see that Munch himself has ripped out whole or parts of pages. Anyone who reads the contents will become aware of course that a large part of them should perhaps never be made public in their entirety, and it is certainly correct that they be stored in the future Munch Museum. I have become more and more aware that it is highly doubtful that I will ever be able to fulfill Munch’s wishes. I believe that I would be more useful within my own profession during the few years that I have left, than by taking on such a challenging job. I would therefore very much like to be relieved of all responsibility and to hand the remainder of the notes over to the Director’s custody. We can perhaps arrange something more specific by telephone or letter.

As one can see from this letter, Schreiner most likely received the notes from probate court quite early, and he immediately began the work of going through them. The Director of the National Gallery, Sigurd Willoch, who was also involved in the cleaning up at Ekely in 1944, received a portion of the notes at a later date, which he in turn handed over to Langaard’s custody. Did Inger Munch, at any point after her brother’s death, have any extended access to the notes and the literary texts, and is it true that she systematically burned parts of the material?



This depends first of all on how the sorting and dividing of the writings was conducted. Inger Munch was at this point an elderly lady, with poor hearing and most likely reduced eyesight, and she was busy asserting herself in a number of other arenas, often of a purely practical nature, during the cleaning up work at Ekely. She had herself been given custody of the enormous correspondence. In addition, the probate court – and later Schreiner – took the task very seriously. It seems, however, that she has had a look at some of the material, although probably with Schreiner’s permission; there is a notebook for example that contains her own inscription to Schreiner. In connection with the publication of the family letters, she was obviously allowed to borrow Munch’s journals from his youth in order to include parts of them in the publication. The rumour about Inger Munch’s editing and burning of notes and letters probably stems primarily from Sigurd Willoch: “Munch had also left his letters to her in his will. It might have been an unfortunate decision. I can remember her reading and sorting letters, postcards and all sorts of small scraps of paper. There can be a danger that she – like Nietzsche’s sister – wished to create a purified edition of her famous brother. The ugly passages from the turn of the century had to be eradicated.”23 Arne Munch-Ellingsen claims without substantiation in a newspaper article in 2001: “Inger began immediately to go through letters and documents. Everything that she did not like, or for tactical reasons wished to remove, was burned. The neighbours saw the smoke rising from the chimney at Ekely for weeks.”24 Earlier in the article he contradicts himself somewhat when referring to an interview with Inger Munch from the Ekely period: “His sister, my great aunt, claims in a newspaper that she cannot find any literary writings among the letters”.25 Bodil Stenseth likewise maintains rather boldly and without any grounds in her book Pakten (The Pact): “Inger burned many letters, but it seems almost accidental which ones she chose to preserve [...]”.26 One can ask oneself instead if the lack of a system in the editing and burning might indicate that it in fact did not take place. Christian Gierløff recounts in his book Edvard Munch selv (Edvard Munch Himself) from 1953: “When Edvard Munch died, I managed to burn all of my letters to him at Ekely, I thought. Yet out of his numerous hiding places his sister Inger was able to send me not only many of my letters to him, but also many of his drafts (yes, unposted letters) to me.”27 In a memo from a conversation with Alf Bøe in 1988, Sigurd Willoch modified his earlier claim considerably: “Willoch remembers having seen Inger and her niece sitting on a bench in the garden going through small pieces of paper – bills and other things – and I do not believe she has destroyed anything but material that might be seen as compromising – first and foremost cases that had to do with erotic matters.”28 This fits pretty well in with an admission from Inger Munch herself: “When Ingeløv and I were sorting through letters in the suitcase [...] I found a letter from Jappe Nielsen to my brother which I burned. I should not have done it, but when I found a book where my brother had written: ‘All compromising letters shall be burned’ I did this with that letter, otherwise I was very careful about doing this.”29 She has dutifully given an account of the content of this letter in a note: Jappe Nilssen was supposed to have told him that Eva Mudocci and Bella Edwards lived together in a homosexual relationship, and that Edvard should flirt with Eva to encourage her to change her mind. It is possible that a letter has been destroyed here and there, and in her work with the family correspondence, one can see from the originals that Inger Munch has cut out certain things – most likely talk of their sister Laura’s illness – and crossed out more insignificant passages that were not meant to be included in the book.

Further Treatment of the Writings

The writings were systematically transcribed, bit by bit, but one does not find any trace of them in doctoral theses or publications before the end of the 1960s. I am of course discounting the texts that Munch published himself during his lifetime. It was most likely the knowledge of these, and the rumour that must have spread about the many thousands of pages that lay hidden in the bowels of the museum that gave Kohlhammer Verlag in Stuttgart the courage to express its interest in publishing Munch’s posthumous literary writings as early as 1962. The interest was politely rebuffed by the museum on the grounds that the material was not yet systematised.

Aside from the founding of a Munch grant in 1963, during the first 20 years of its existence the museum had an apartment that researches could use. Among the first to take advantage of these new opportunities were the scholars Roy Boe (Edvard Munch: His Life and Work from 1880 to 1920, New York Univ. 1970), Gösta Svenæus (Edvard Munch: Im männlichen Gehirn, Lund 1973), Reinhold Heller (Edvard Munch’s Life Frieze. Its Beginnings and Origins, Indiana Univ. 1969) and Trygve Nergaard (Refleksjon og visjon. Naturalismens dilemma i Edvard Munchs kunst, 1889–1894 (Reflection and Vision. Naturalism’s Dilemma in Edvard Munch’s Art), Univ. of Oslo 1968). And little by little, access to Munch’s notes was opened to scholars. Both Nergaard and Heller refer extensively to these in their dissertations.





Peter Watkins’s Film on Edvard Munch

In 1969 the Munch Museum was contacted by the British Film Director Peter Watkins, who wished to make a feature film about Edvard Munch. Watkins had been deeply moved by his first encounter with Munch’s imagery: “In the winter of 1968 [...] I was invited by the University of Oslo to a screening of Culloden and The War Game [...] As it so happened the screening took place in a large hall at the Munch Museum in Oslo. During the screening I wandered through the exhibition and had my first introduction to the works of Edvard Munch. It was a complete shock. I had never heard of Munch, and had never seen canvases like this, especially the ones expressing – for Munch doesn’t show, he expresses – the suffering of his family. [...] I was very moved by Munch’s use of space and form, his displacement of time, and the directness of the confrontation with the spectator.”30

Peter Watkins was awarded an Oscar in 1967 for his controversial docu-drama The War Game, and this was probably one of the reasons behind the museum’s favourable interest in the film project. Watkins visited Oslo several times during the planning stages of the film – he lived for a time in the research apartment in the museum – and he had many long talks with Curator Pål Hougen about Edvard Munch. In an exceedingly clear-sighted and well-written project proposal he presented his wish to use Munch’s own texts: “The film would use much of Munch’s own sayings and writings, though with discretion, as many of these have probably never been published before, but it is hoped that such can be made available by the directors of the Munch Museum in Oslo, who have already expressed interest in this project, and signified their wish to help.”31 Pål Hougen initially chose central literary texts that were translated and paid for by Watkins’s as yet small budget. At a later date, when the collaboration with the Norwegian Broadcasting Company (NRK) and Swedish Radio were formalised, additional texts were quickly translated by NRK’s script supervisor Anne Veflingstad.

While working with the film script, Watkins focused in particular on the painter’s relationship to the married “Mrs. Heiberg” [Milly Thaulow], who is the subject of many of the literary notes. Munch’s literary notes were also instrumental in the final editing and cutting of the film: “I must emphasize that the complex and fragmented manner of the narrative structure in this film is not purely my invention. I was also inspired by Munch’s diaries, which at that time had not been published. Munch often wrote in a highly fragmented and complex manner – in the same sentence he would jump from the past to the present, from referring to himself in the first person (‘I’) to the third person (‘Karlemann’). And the form of these sentences was also often very fractured – using hyphens instead of the usual punctuation, as he rushed from one phrase or exclamation to the next.”32



The Munch Museum had for the first time – most likely rather reluctantly – opened up for the use of the notes and the literary texts to a greater extent than ever before. The subsequent collaboration with Watkins and NRK did not evolve without controversy. During the shooting of the film in 1973, Dagbladet published a rather harmless and rather chatty interview – penned by Arne Hestenes – with one of the amateur actresses in the film, a 17-year-old high school student who played the part of Aase Carlsen.33 The 17-year-old referred briefly to a scene that was taken from the script, based on a scene from one of Munch’s literary journals. The Munch Museum in the person of Pål Hougen reacted rather vehemently to this ‘leak’. It appears that the museum for some reason felt the need to demonstrate its hegemony to the national broadcasting station. Hougen pointed out in a crass letter to NRK that “There are strict restrictions regarding the use of Munch’s literary journals and notes”, and justifies this by saying that “they have to do with relations of a private character and openly depict Munch’s and other persons’ intimate experiences. [...] An unconditional stipulation has been that the material shall not be used in the press.”34 Hougen also threatened to reconsider the collaboration if the regulations were not respected, and emphasised that the film script must not get into the wrong hands and become popular reading. In a lengthy letter NRK apologised profusely for the newspaper interview. The City of Oslo’s Chief Cultural Officer was also presented with a briefing on the matter.

Munch’s Writings in Later Publications

In time a number of books that contained selections of Munch’s notes and literary texts followed, based on the many transcriptions that were accessible in the museum’s research library. Ragna Stang’s book Edvard Munch. The Man and the Artist was published in 1971 and contained an extensive selection of notes. The book was translated into a number of languages throughout the 1970s (English edition 1979). Nic Stang’s book on Munch was also published that year, and many quotations taken from the notes were woven into the text. Reinhold Heller published his monograph on Scream in 1973 and he gave special emphasis to and quoted many of the texts relating to this motif. In his important monograph Munch. His Life and Work from 1984, Heller made use of both letters and notes. In 1986 a small selection of texts were translated and published in the USA by the Munch Museum’s former lecturer Bente Torjusen at her own expense.

Reidar Dittman at St. Olaf College in Minnesota wished to publish a little book in 1976 with a selection of letters and notes related to the 1880s–90s. The plans for publication were rejected by Pål Hougen, most likely due to a more offensive publishing plan on the part of the museum. In Alf Bøe’s previously mentioned note from 1977, he outlined plans for a publication of a selection of texts. Pål Hougen was going to edit it and contribute commentaries to fragments of novels in a volume of its own, and a selection resembling that of Norwegian artist Henrik Sørensen’s notes and sketches35 in one volume or more. The plans were never realised but a selection of texts were printed in exhibition catalogues throughout the 1980s and 90s and used in articles written by the museum’s scholarly staff; in particular Arne Eggum’s articles and books, such as the significant monograph The Frieze of Life. From Painting to Graphic Art from 1990, which was also published in English in 2000.

Peter Watkins’s film generated growing interest both in Munch and the period of the 1880s–90s and the bohemian circles during the 1970s. In 1977 the Polish-Norwegian film Dagny was released, which dealt with Dagny Juel and the bohemian circle associated with the wine bar Zum Schwarzen Ferkel in Berlin. The following year, in 1978, the musician, composer and writer Ketil Bjørnstad released the “rock opera” Leve Patagonia! (Long Live Patagonia!) about Hans Jæger and the Kristiania Bohemia. Bjørnstad delved deeper into the bohemian material, and in 1983 published the popular documentary novel Oda about the “bohemian queen” Oda Krohg. Scenes described in Edvard Munch’s Fiolette dagbok (The Violet Journal) 1891–92 provided colour and authenticity to parts of the book. Obviously fascinated by Munch’s literary texts, Bjørnstad put music to a selection of lyrical prose texts by Munch, and in 1993 he released the record Løsrivelse (Separation) in collaboration with the Norwegian singer Kari Bremnes, who performed the songs. The record received very good reviews, but few of the music critics took notice of the author of the lyrics. The music critic in Bergens Tidende at the time, Frode Grytten, remarked however: “The texts are new to this critic, but it is striking how powerful and succinct they are.”36 Bjørnstad continued his plumbing of Munch’s texts and the same year published his documentary novel The Story of Edvard Munch, for the most part based on the texts, but without quoting Munch directly. The book was translated into English (2001) and German.

In 1995 Munch was the subject of a scholarly thesis, for the first time in the role of poet and author, when Sven Arne Glosli wrote his dissertation in Scandinavian Literature at the University of Oslo: Frå tekst til bilde. Ein analyse av Edvard Munchs romanutkast frå St. Cloud, Paris, 1890 (From Text to Image. An Analysis of Edvard Munch’s Fragmentary Notes for a Novel from St. Cloud, Paris 1890). In 2004 Hans-Martin Frydenberg Flaatten wrote his dissertation in art history on the literary models for the Scream motif, and has since treated Munch’s literary notes in many articles.

A substantial selection of Munch’s notes and literary texts were published in 2000–01 – edited and with an introductory essay by Poul Erik Tøjner, Director of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art near Copenhagen. The book Munch. In His Own Words was first published in Norwegian and Danish editions, and somewhat later in Swedish and English. Thanks to effective marketing and distribution it has contributed to increased interest in Munch’s writings globally, stimulating numerous inquiries addressed to the Munch Museum regarding new selections and translations into different languages. In 2006 an extensive selection of texts was published in Czech in an attractive and exclusive book.

As this fragmentary and incomplete chronicle hopefully conveys, the present internet publication of Edvard Munch’s writings leans heavily on the substantial and untiring endeavours by the museum’s many scholars from the very beginning, in 1946. And just as important for the project is the knowledge and expertise about Edvard Munch’s life and art, which – based on these very same primary sources – has been disseminated by the many external museum scholars and art historians, university professors and students, authors and artists, who throughout the years have studied at the Munch Museum.


1 “Alt om Edvard Munch skal frem i lyset”. Interview with Johan Langaard, Social-Demokraten, 3.10.1947.

2 Letter from Inger Munch to Langaard, 28.12.1947.

3 Ibid.

4 Copy of a letter from Langaard to Johan Grundt Tanum, 15.6.1948.

5 Foreword to Edvard Munchs brev : Familien, Oslo 1949.

6 Memo to the Board of the City of Oslo Art Collections, 10.9.1952.

7 Letter from Harald Juell to Arne Eggum, 22.11.1977. In a previous letter to Eggum, Juell had enclosed a xeroxed copy of a letter from Edvard Munch to an unknown German art dealer.

8 In the foreword to Edvard Munchs brev: fra dr. med Max Linde (Munch Museum Manuscripts 3), p. 6.

9 Memo to the Board of the City of Oslo Art Collections, 3.6.1953.

10 From the foreword. Gösta Svenæus: Idé och innehåll i Edvard Munchs konst, Oslo 1953.

11 Johan Langaard: “Alvorlig anklage”, Morgenposten, 19.10.1960.

12 Ibid.

13 Ingrid Lindbäck Langaard: “Alvorlig anklage”, Morgenposten, 21.10.1960.

14 Johan Langaard: “Alvorlig anklage igjen”, Morgenposten, 24.10.1960.

15 Arne Durban: “Nytt praktverk om Munch”, Morgenposten, 23.5.1961.

16 Letter from Johan Langaard to the editorial staff of Morgenposten, 26.5.1961.

17 Letter from Knut Berg on the part of the Commission of Specialists, Kunsthistorisk Forening (The Association of Art Historians) to Johan Langaard, 2.6.1961.

18 Letter from Johan Langaard to the Commission of Specialists, Kunsthistorisk Forening (The Association of Art Historians), 5.6.1961.

19 Memo to the Board of the City of Oslo Art Collections, 29.5.1961.

20 All information about the collecting and publishing of letters has been taken from correspondence and notes in the City of Oslo Art Collections’ and the Munch Museum’s archives.

21 Curator Reidar Revold was imprisoned in March 1968 for theft and for selling stolen property consisting of graphic works by Munch from the museum’s collection.

22 Letter from Kristian Schreiner to Langaard, 8.2.1949.

23 Undated and unpublished account by Sigurd Willoch: The organising and appraisal of Edvard Munch’s estate after his death. The account was most likely written some time during the 1950s–60s.

24 Arne Munch-Ellingsen: “Munchs notater”, Dagens Næringsliv, 6.4.2001

25 Ibid.

26 Bodil Stenseth: Pakten – en familiehistorie, Oslo 2004, p. 356.

27 Cristian Gierløff: Edvard Munch selv, Oslo 1953, p. 17.

28 Alf Bøe: Unpublished note from a conversation with Sigurd Willoch, 29.4.1988.

29 Letter from Inger Munch to Langaard, 16.6.1947.

30 Peter Watkins: “Edvard Munch : A self-interview”, The Cinema of Peter Watkins : Edvard Munch, special edition 2-DVD set [pamphlet], Toronto, 2007, p. 35.

31 Peter Watkins: Project proposal for the film, dated 22.5.1970.

32 Peter Watkins: “Edvard Munch: A self-interview”, op. cit., p. 47.

33 Plut (Arne Hestenes): “Munch-elskerinne med skoleveske!”, Dagbladet, 2.2.1973.

34 Letter from the Munch Museum signed by Pål Hougen to NRK, 2.2.1973.

35 Opptegnelser og skisser : fra Henrik Sørensens notat- og skissebøker, Oslo 1963.

36 Frode Grytten: “Munchs mystiske kvinner”, Bergens Tidende, 26.1.1993.

Translated from Norwegian by Francesca M. Nichols