By  on January 27, 2006

NEW YORK — Maybe it's a sign of the times, but Edvard Munch, the epic Symbolist painter whose work centered on illness, loneliness and anxiety, is about to be the toast of the town.

His remarkably modern-looking prints go up Tuesday at Scandinavia House here and visitors may find it hard to believe the artist died 62 years ago. Munch, probably best known for his painting "The Scream," also will have top billing in two unrelated events next month. The Museum of Modern Art aims to raise the artist's profile with "Edvard Munch: The Modern Life of the Soul." The show, which bows Feb. 19 and runs through May 8, will be the first to honor his work in an American museum in nearly 30 years. In London, Norwegian shipping magnate Fred Olsen's collection of Munch paintings is expected to go for up to $21 million at a Sotheby's sale.

A sampling of his etchings, lithographs and woodcuts will be showcased at Scandinavia House's "Edvard Munch: Symbolism in Print, Highlights from the Museum of Modern Art." The show's organizer, Deborah Wye, noted how Munch saved copper plates, woodblocks and lithographic stones used for printmaking in order to use them again, sometimes tweaking the template or using different colors. Munch also liked to make woodblocks in separate pieces like a jigsaw puzzle, which gave him the freedom to alter a design. In total, he made about 750 compositions in 30,000 variations.

Like other Symbolist artists, all those cold, dark years of living in Scandinavia took a toll on Munch's psyche, but his seemingly gloomy subject matter was rooted in personal hardship. Munch lost his mother and older sister to premature deaths. Prints of "The Sick Child" actually reflect his sister's struggle and demise from tuberculosis, which is hinted at with yellow tones, Wye said.

Artists, especially younger ones who have taken to using narratives in recent years, will be particularly drawn to Munch's prints, said Wye, who is also the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Chief Curator of Prints and Illustrated Book at the MoMA. "In terms of a more general audience, the things he addresses — loneliness, anxiety, sickness, death and jealousy — all those universal questions, are always relevant."

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