The Tate Modern wafts its heavy wand of history making and attempts to rebrand Munch as part of the modernist movement. Whether they are right or wrong is not so important, especially when this exhibition makes for such a fascinating look at a tormented soul, whose work is too often overshadowed by his much-bastardised masterpiece The Scream.

The premise of the exhibition is to focus on the work Munch made in the twentieth century, as opposed to the stuff in the nineteenth century he is widely known for. In fact, as the information boards tell us, three quarters of his work was done after the turn of the century. The exhibition also looks at the artist’s experiments in new media - the wealth of photographic images on display is surprising, as well as his brush with filmmaking in 1927 on a Pathe-Baby. What isn’t so surprising though, is that still within these other experiments is the irrepressible torment Munch was so fixated by.

Despite the themes the Tate team have developed, the titles of the works are unavoidably loaded – The Murderess 1907, Sick Child 1907, Uninvited Guests 1932, Weeping Woman 1907 (incidentally, the bronze cast of which was earmarked as the artist’s tombstone) – all speak of the suffering that the artist so regularly revisits to produce his artwork.

The exhibition does address the changing style and outside inspiration that Munch worked with. And he did respond to the world around him, influenced by the onset of modernism and being a working artist – he undoubtedly played to an audience and their evolving tastes. A regular trope of his is play with perspectives. Often a figure within the image can be seen as truncated and cut off towards the foreground. This is attributed to his interest in photography throughout the exhibition and a great example of this can be seen in Workers on their Way Home 1913-14.

The self-reflexion that Munch shows throughout his work is astounding. In 1930 Munch suffered a hemorrhage in his right eye (his left eye was his bad one) and there is a room dedicated to the work that evolved from this. He used his ailment to inspire and direct the style of his work (let’s not forget that Monet had already done this, however) in an obsessive way. His work at this point becomes abstract and almost psychedelic in its style.

We know that Munch had bouts of depression, that he was an alcoholic and spent time in sanatoriums as a result, that he had his heart broken and lost his sister at a young age. But even with that taken into account, there is no shortage of emotional self-indulgence here. And whilst this is old fashioned for art today, this does not discount his work as insincere.
The final room of the exhibition shows the artist in various states of sickness, physically withered and eventually in Self-Portrait: Between the Clock and the Bed 1940-3 on his deathbed. His identification of himself as limited by his humanness is fascinating and very like his contemporary Van Gogh.

With one of the four versions of The Scream auctioned off earlier this year for a record price, you would think the exhibition could suffer without it. But it is so much better that it is nowhere to be seen.  

Perhaps they are right, to reposition him as a modernist painter – they spin a convincing argument, but what still permeates is that he produced some of the most disturbed and tormented artwork I have seen. The exhibition exudes psychological trauma and pain from every stroke of paint: a cliché? Probably. An unfashionable use of art today? Perhaps. But a wonderfully powerful exhibition all the same.

Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye, at Tate ModernLaura Thornley reviews Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye at the Tate Modern.4