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Edvard Munch was a versatile artist who tried out a number of different mediums during his productive career, including the tactile craft of woodcuts. He kept most of his original designs, allowing us to comprehensively document his work in this medium.
The artist loved to make use of local natural items and use them in his work. Not only would be produce landscape paintings based on the Norwegian countryside, but he even went as far as painting on wood and stone. The latter was used to then produce lithographs in conjunction with a number of professional printers that he collaborated with. He also experimented with wood in different ways and learnt to appreciate the finer details of this material. It also felt entirely appropriate to produce nature-themed artworks on such from the natural world itself. As with his work in other mediums, he kept most of these original items in his studios and home, allowing the Norwegian state to then claim ownership of many artworks upon his passing, just as he planned.
The artwork displayed in this page was titled Toward the Forest I and is essentially a print that was produced from two painted woodblocks that were placed together to form the image on this woven paper. It is dated at around 1913, though the original design was completed much earlier in 1897. The opportunity to produce prints of his artwork enabled Munch to promote his work to a much wider audience, both in terms of across Europe rather than just his domestic Norwegian market, as well as also offering cheaper alternatives so that those with small budgets could now own their own copies. He desired to be seen in many homes across the whole continent but always wanted to keep the original paintings and woodblock designs in his own home. Ever since the Northern Renaissance there have been successful attempts by artists to spread their reputation wider through the use of prints, though this idea has now been surpassed by the digital media.
The artist would sometimes take existing paintings and rework them into the woodcut format, or alternatively create new spinoff designs which fitted closely with the original oil piece. He worked with woodcuts most between the years of 1890 to 1910 and also brought in other ideas during this period. Munch would study the activities of other artists in Paris, Berlin and Oslo in order to make use of any ideas that he could and also spent time in the company of the professional printers themselves in order to better understand, potentially even mimic, their working practices. For example, he would suggest artistic choices with regards the colours chosen for the prints, as well as the order by which the different stages were completed. In normal cases he would have worked alone, and so this level of collaboration was unusual for someone who liked to remain in control as much as possible.
Munch loved the unique qualities of working with wood, and would even attempt to incorporate the specific grain pattern into some of the designs. He is known to have amended his designs to produce different series of works, just as some of the finest etchers from previous centuries had done. He could therefore use the printing process as a means to provide a steady stream of income, whilst also taking each opportunity to check his artwork and perhaps plan changes for future series of publications. He would do the same with his artworks on the surfaces of stone too, and would create whole different effects by just tweaking a few elements to his designs. The woodcut process is well suited to Munch's expressive style, where a reduced palette perfectly captures the types of solemn atmospheres that show through much of his work. He quickly understood this and happily contributed a good number of woodcut designs right up until his death.