Feature: ArtScene

Art Scene: Edvard Munch, Smiles and Screams

By , Columnist

The Scream, Edvard Munch

London. The girl across the hall has a new personal trainer. He makes house calls. She says he's ex-Airborne. Ronnie says he makes crash landings.  She says she shared a cab with him and the meter hadn't rolled before his hand was on her knee.  

Now Connie's handled more sensational passes than even the 570 her all-time hero Brett Favre threw in that great Packers season of '95 - and she's old enough to have seen most of them. Connie may be right. I mean how many pilates classes break at 4am for donuts and skinny latte? 

Connie says she saw the girl across the hall at Confession. She wasn't in very long. I suppose one subject covers all. We're sort of friends. We shared the only spare table at the Edvard Munch show at the Royal Academy seven years back. Then I saw her at the Musee d'Orsay one morning last October and she said she was coming back to London. She's from Dijon. Connie says that makes sense. "Looks creamy but no real taste you can put your finger on." Anyway, I told her when the apartment across the hall was vacant and that was that, neighbors.

So this morning, looking the worse for wear (or just maybe, better for it) she collapsed on my second best chesterfield as Anne Hathaway would have called it and started talking The Scream. Why not? That's when our hardly beautiful friendship began. She wants to know why it's so great and why could it fetch $80million when it comes up at Sotheby's New York .

edvard-munch-self-portrait-in-bergen.jpgFabulous? She thought Not. Just crayons that worked on the day. There are many versions. Obsessive? She thought Yes. Could be. But that's was Munch.  Look at his self-portraits. Can't fail to get more than a sense he must have lived his life preparing for death.

Was there ever a painter who did so many self-portraits? Well, ye ma'am. Rembrandt did 90. Van Gogh more than 30,  Munch, maybe 70. That's a lot of self examination about age and a painter's human condition, which is what self-portraits are. Munch said it was a confession.  So Connie asks the girl across the hall if she does self portraits. She has one of those fake slow smiles and slightly shakes her head. When she does her whole upper body moves. That's pilates for you.

My Number One Fan says artists do what novellists do: it's all about themselves.  He said ever since Jan Van Eyck in the 15th century did maybe the first surviving self-portrait Portrait of a Man in A Turban, painters have been coursing their own decline to death. So where's he getting this? He must have read that somewhere because he knows nothing about painting. He confesses. He's quoting one of my columns. There's too much of that going on.

So what do we make of The Scream coming up? I think we should make $80million of it.  It's Petter Olsen, a son of the famous Fred Olsen Line shipping company, who is selling the painting. He says its time for others to see it on regular display. Okay Petter. What happens if it's bought by another private art patron and tucked away on the bulkhead of an air-con superyacht? I supposed Petter may be disappointed but he can use the $80million to invest in a hotel and shrine at Munch's old Norwegian playground, Hvisten - just in time to cash in on the 150th anniversary of the painter's birth in 2013.

The girl across the hall smells money - more than personal trainers make. She asks how old Petter is. Connie says he's Norwegian so nobody knows. She's smiling that smile again and whispers off to get quality time pilates. Personal trainers are at least good time keepers. Mind you, maybe she's got something about The Scream. Could it be that it's just famous? Just iconic? Maybe it's not so good after all. Sotheby's are selling it in New York on May 2.  I can hear Simon Shaw in the York Avenue boardroom chuckling. Not a masterpiece? He can give 80,000,000 reasons why it is.

ArtScene Quote
In my art I have tried to explain life and its meaning to myself. - Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch, Self Portrait in Bergen, above right.

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Fiona Graham-Mackay, is London's newest royal portrait painter. She is also recently back from painting in the Pakistan-Afghan border. She studied at London's Royal College of Art, had a studio in Paris before returning to the UK to paint and teach in London, Spain and Italy. Her next assignments areā€¦

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