It has not yet been possible to determine the full scope of Edvard Munch's production. This much at least can be said with certainty: his production is enormous in comparison with that of most modern artists. At the time of his death he left no less than 1,008 paintings. To these must be added, besides drawings, watercolors, engravings and sculptures, all the paintings which the artist had given away or sold in the course of the good sixty years he wielded a brush.
A wide selection of Edvard Munch's works would scarcely fail to put his artistic quality into high relief. However, no exhibition can be large enough to throw light on all aspects of his captivating artistic personality. I am thinking now in particular of a certain characteristic feature in Munch, which he displayed already at the beginning of the nineties in the pictures forming the Frieze of Life series. I am thinking of the way in which it became apparently less important for him to produce single masterpieces than to find expression for whole series of ideas in large groups of ideologically connected pictures.
This is significant in more than one way. In the first place it tells us how he began at an early date to preoccupy himself with decorative problems. It was not because he wished to express any new primitivistic artistic feeling. It was because he perceived that he could only keep a large connected series of pictures assembled in one place by giving it the form of decorative wall-painting. He felt that he must be prepared to undertake a commission of this nature if it were offered to him. An unkind fate prevented Edvard Munch from ever realizing the Frieze of Life in that way. The world had no room for the work in the special form he thought it required. In this respect it may be said that the artist's chief work from his youth was never carried out in full conformity with his real intentions. This is undoubtedly the greatest tragedy which has overtaken Norwegian art, although the individual pictures of the Frieze of Life can now and again be assembled and seen at one exhibition.
Munch did not allow himself to be affected or deterred by this ill fortune. When in 1907 he painted bathing life on the beach at Warnemünde, he still worked in the same way. He used the motif to compose three different pictures in such a way that they form the natural and clear symbol of an imaginative series of ideas. In their representation of unwakened youth, virile strength and elderly meditation, the pictures symbolize the everlasting character of the three ages.
In 1911 Edvard Munch won the competition for the privilege of decorating the new assembly hall of Oslo University, the so-called Aula. Thereby he gained his first and greatest chance of keeping a connected group of pictures united in the form of a large room decoration. Munch knew how to avail himself of this opportunity. He created the chief work of his maturity, and a work which raises the question whether his most beautiful artistic contribution is not found in the sphere of monumental . . .