Åsgårdstrand, on the western shore of the Oslofjord, south west of the Norwegian capital, had been Edvard Munch’s summer retreat for many years. The picturesque harbour town provided the setting for many of the artist`s sensitive landscape paintings. In these idyllic surroundings, Munch produced some of his brightest, most cheerful pictures that so dramatically differ from the majority of his angst-ridden oeuvre.
Since 1888, Munch spent most of his summers in Åsgårdstrand, renting various cottages until he bought his own property, Lykkehus, in 1898, were he built a studio. The present picture shows a woman hanging up laundry in a cottage garden – a friendly domestic scene, painted in radiant colours with an impulsive, swirling brush. Other quaint houses can be seen in the background, shaded by trees, and a sunny blue sea on the horizon. The bright orange siding of the house on the left indicates that we are standing in Edvard Munch`s own backyard.
Munch’s house in Åsgårdstrand
Paintings from the Linde Frieze in Munch’s garden in Åsgårdstrand, 1903
1902, the year the present painting was created, was an eventful one for Edvard Munch. His tormented relationship to his lover and muse Tulla Larsen ended in high drama, with Munch shooting himself in the hand and subsequently going through a period of psychological turmoil. At the same time, he was in the process of completing his famous Frieze of Life, twenty-two pictures of love and death, unified by their Åsgårdstrand setting, which was exhibited at the Berlin Secession in 1902.
Aside for the summer months on the Oslofjord, Munch spent most of his time in Germany, where he became increasingly successful. Munch was able to attract a circle of influential patrons in Germany, such as prominent art historian Eberhard von Bodenhausen, and infamous dandy and connoisseur Harry Count Kessler. He also came into contact with German artists Ernst-Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, founding members of Die Brücke, who invited Munch to join their group, which he declined. These artists admired Munch`s bold use of colour as well as his swirling linear undulations as expressions of emotion. Munch’s art would become a major influence on the emergence of German Expressionism.
The present painting has a fascinating provenance. Truly a museum picture, it entered the collection of the Hessische Landesmuseum in Darmstadt, Germany, in 1929. Eight years later, with the Nazis in power, the picture was labelled “degenerate” and the museum forced to de-accession it, along with other modern art works from its collection. Clothes on a Line in Åsgårdstrand was then purchased by Carl Neumann, one of the most prolific German collectors of Modern Art of his time. A textile magnate from Barmen, near Wuppertal, who owned multiple factories in Germany and abroad, Neumann lost his entire assets, including most of his extensive art collection during WWII. Subsequently, the painting was with different Norwegian collectors, before coming to Canada in 2012.