Tracey Emin / Edvard Munch

[30 Apr 2021]

“The Loneliness of the Soul”, a joint exhibition of work by Tracey Emin and Edvard Munch at London’s Royal Academy is scheduled to reopen on 18 May (until 1 August). We visited the show on the RA’s website.

The Royal Academy didn’t choose Tracey Emin by chance. The venerable British institution has greatly contributed to Emin’s notoriety. The first time in 1997, by exhibiting her famous embroidered tent titled Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995 (1995), (purchased by Charles Saatchi and subsequently destroyed in a fire), and then, ten years later, when it appointed her as a Royal Academician. In the 2010s she became one of the RA’s very few female art professors since the institution was founded in 1768.

Dialogue between two soul mates

Tracey Emin’s admiration for Edvard MUNCH (1863-1944) began at an early age. She says that her discovery of Munch’s work in a book on Expressionism was an an artistic revelation and that the inspiration derived from his work has accompanied her ever since. As early as 1998, Emin referred to Munch both in the title and the location of her film “Homage to Edvard Munch and all my dead children” where we see her naked, curled up in a fetal position on a wooden jetty at the edge of the Oslo Fjord in Asgardstrand, precisely where Munch painted several of his most well-known works. The film also shows her screaming, in reference, of course, to Munch’s famous canvas The scream (see image).

The idea for this joint exhibition came to Tracey EMIN during a visit to the Munch Archives in Oslo. Finding herself in perfect harmony with the universe of her artistic idol, she obtained permission from the museum to organise this small but powerful exhibition, with a carefully considered selection of 19 oil paintings and watercolors by the Norwegian artist (from the MUNCH collection and archives), alongside 25 of her own works, mainly canvases but also neon lights and some sculptures.

Despite everything that, a priori, opposes the two artists (their gender, their century of birth, their geographical origin and their culture), the exhibition aims to show how much they are linked. The two artists share the same raw emotional intensity and explore the dark territories of the psyche. Pain and color bring them together too, especially via reds depicting blood, passion, anger and forms of intense moral anguish that manifest as physical pain. Both showed self-destructive tendencies but also found solace in artistic creation.

What the market likes and dislikes

On 25 March last, the author of the famous The Scream was in the spotlight at Sotheby’s in London with two paintings: Embrace on the Beach (The Linde Frieze), painted in 1904, and Self-Portrait with Palette, dated 1926. Considering the quality of the two works and the scarcity of Munch works in circulation, it was an important moment.
Embrace on the beach is a superb marriage of bright and contrasting colors depicting ghostly characters in a singular perspective and exuding a sense of dissociation. In 2006 the painting was acquired by a family of major Norwegian collectors, the Olsens, for nearly $11 million. On 25 March, it doubled that price reaching $22.4 million, Munch’s fifth best-ever auction result.

Edvard Munch, Etreinte sur la plage (1904), sold 22,4 m$ the 25 of March 2021.

Self-Portrait with Palette is much less seductive as a painting (the artist depicted himself with a look of profound disgust) and was from the same source. Despite the rarity of the occasion, the portrait ‘only’ fetched $5.9 million. Expected to fetch substantially more, Munch’s stern face with a bifurcated gaze, frowning forehead and expression of near disdain seems to have put off some collectors.

Tracey Emin has of course also created ‘unattractive’ works. Her famous symbolic ‘self-portrait’, My Bed, even generates a certain form of disgust in the spectator – the messed up bed, the empty liquor bottles, soiled paper wipes, cigarette butts, the traces of a somewhat dissolute life, etc. – and yet the installation sold for a personal record price of $4.3 million at Christie’s London in 2014. Shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1999, My Bed is emblematic of Emin’s exploration of the depths of despair, delivering stark testimonies of “loneliness, vulnerability and emotional fragility” … and it is no doubt in this sense that her work can be compared with that of Edvard Munch… in the ‘transgression of depths’… a dominant theme throughout the Royal Academy exhibition.

‘Monumental’ continuation of the exhibition in Oslo…

After London, the dialogue between the pioneer Norwegian with a radical Modern style and Britain’s best-loved ‘bad-girl’ Contemporary artist will continue in the new Oslo museum dedicated to the Munch, which contains no less than 28,000 of his works. To complete the decor, Emin’s nine-meter-tall sculpture, The Mother, is expected to be installed there overlooking the Oslo waterfront.


Tracey Emin, 2007. Photo Piers Allardyce