Gleaming with the sunlight of the Mediterranean, Munch's depiction of the Promenade des Anglais in Nice is one of the pivotal compositions that would foreshadow his seminal Frieze of Life series. Painted only two years before The Scream, the present work evidences the contemporary influences at play in Munch's painting and his own approaches to plein air painting. Munch completed this canvas while on a painting expedition in the south of France in 1891, when Impressionism was still the standard bearer of French avant-garde art. The dramatic interplay of light and shadow and the depth of visual perspective in the scene are indicative of the influence of Monet and Caillebotte. But the individual figures in these pictures, each one disengaged and vacant of expression, touch upon the isolation, anxiety and distopia that were undercurrents in Munch's most profound compositions. In fact, this work was featured in the controversial exhibition of Munch's painting in Berlin in 1892, which was shut down after one week due to public outrage over the misanthropy evidenced in his pictures.
In a recent exhibition catalogue, Jay A. Clarke describes the impact of Munch's experiences in France on his future development, and the resulting landscape paintings, such as the present work, that 'bridged the gap between Norway and France' by combining the motif of the isolated figure with the brushwork, coloration and light of traditional Impressionist plein air painting. "There is no question that Munch's experience of French vanguard painting in Paris and elsewhere had a transforming effect on his subject matter, palette, handling of paint, and theoretical approach to subjectivity. One major source of inspiration was the wide array of street images produced by the Impressionists. Before his Parisian trips of 1885 and 1889-91, the artist had created only a few urban views, which were relatively rare in Kristiania. However, between 1889 and 1892, he made significantly more pictures that focused on the bustling avenues of Paris and Kristiania, experimenting with a variety of painting styles, chromatic effects and perspectival views, as if trying on each one on for size" (J. A. Clarke, Becoming Edvard Munch, Influence, Anxiety, and Myth (exhibition catalogue), Art Institute of Chicago, 2009, p. 40).
Munch's first attempts at landscape painting in the late 1880s presented significant challenges; he struggled with reconciling the experience of painting en plein air with his own emotional responses to the natural world. By the time he painted the present work, the landscape itself became a backdrop of his own projections of the human psyche. The contemplative figure in Evening, also painted in 1891, is the personification of melancholy and loneliness, and the dim landscape is colored by these powerful emotions. While the relationship between the figures and the landscape in the present work is more nuanced, it provides the provocative contrast between the frigidity and dazed isolation of the individuals and the warmth and dramatic visual splendor of the seaside.
Munch describes the scene depicted here in his journal entry of March 1, 1891, and his account reveals the mystifying quality of that beautiful day and the disorienting beauty of his surroundings; "I go out onto the Promenade des Anglais. How quiet it is -- how bright -- how clear the air is here -- how pure blue the sea. Is it Sunday? I don't know -- I haven't counted the days -- they pass as in a dream -- but it feels like Sunday. Only a few people are walking this morning -- some are reading the newspaper. There is an old gentleman with a white parasol -- his back is ramrod straight, his head is held proudly -- he stands quite still, looking out to sea.... The waves: long, sparkling in the sun, they glide slowly up the beach. Half dozing, I follow them with my eyes -- till they break -- one after another. The blinding sunlight -- the brilliant colours and the regular crashing of the waves, lulls one into a doze. The ocean seems to be an enormous, endless, breathing creature. Its huge breast rises and falls -- I can feel its breath. And the crashing waves are like heavy sighs" (E. Munch , reprinted in P. E. Tojner, op. cit., pp. 76-77).
Oil on canvas
Kristiania, Tostrupgarden, Edvard Munch, 1892, no. 27
25 1/2 by 41 3/4 in. 65 by 106 cm
Arne Eggum, Edvard Munch, Maierier-Skisser og Studier, Oslo, 1983, illustration of the Equitable Palast exhibition in Berlin p. 90
Arne Eggum, Munch and Photography, New Haven & London, 1989, illustration of the Equitable Palast exhibition in Berlin p. 56
Arne Eggum, Munch und die Photographie, Bern, 1991, p. 114
Munch et la France (exhibition catalogue), Musée d'Orsay, Paris, 1992, illustrated p. 115
Poul Erik Tojner, Munch, In His Own Words, New York, 2001, discussed pp. 76-77
Petra Pettersen, "Munch a Nizza," L'oro e l'azzurro. I colori del sud da Cézanne a Bonnard (exhibition catalogue), Treviso, 2003, p. 192
Gerd Woll, Edvard Munch, Complete Paintings, vol. I, London, 2009, no. 221, illustrated in color p. 215
(possibly) Fredrik Arentz
Hammerlungs Kunsthandel (1955)
Samuel G. Yulke, New York (1959)
Shoneman Gallery, New York
Galerie Wilhelm Grosshennig, Dusseldorf (acquired from the above on June 13, 1960)
Wihelm Reinold, Hamburg (acquired from the above in 1962)
Private Collection (by descent from the above and sold: Christie's, London, February 2, 2004, lot 7)
Verner Åmell (2004)
Sale: Bruun Rasmussen, Copenhagen, October 09, 2006, lot 12
Acquired by the present owner in 2007