Dance on the Beach by Munch

Edvard Munch’s Dance on the Beach (from the Reinhardt Frieze) to be offered at Sotheby’s on March with a $15-25m estimate.

Image: Sotheby's.

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Dance on the Beach, a four metre-wide frieze, was commissioned in 1906 as part of what is now known as The Reinhardt Frieze, installed on the walls of impresario Max Reinhardt’s avant-garde theatre in Berlin.

When the theatre was refurbished in 1912, the frieze was split up and this work was acquired by art historian and director of the Berlin State Art Library Prof Curt Glaser, who was a friend and biographer of the artist.

Curt Glaser's library

Curt Glaser’s library in his apartment with Tiepolo on the wall and portrait of Glaser by Beckmann on easel.

Image: Sotheby's.

However, Glaser was later persecuted by the Nazis for his Jewish background and left Germany in 1933, selling many of his artworks, including this work, when he fled.

It was offered at an auction in Norway in 1934 and bought by Thomas Olsen who was another friend and patron of Munch’s. Olsen hung the painting in the First Class lounge of his passenger liner the MS Black Watch – which travelled between Oslo and Newcastle. But after Britain declared war on Germany, Olsen removed the artwork and took it, alongside his other pictures by Munch (including The Scream), into hiding in a barn in the Norwegian forest for the duration of the war. It then stayed with the Olsen family until now.

Simon Shaw, Sotheby’s vice chairman in fine arts, said: “Munch was the ultimate rebel, and every brushstroke on this frieze is utterly modern and purely expressive. This composition reimagines one of Munch’s greatest images, the Dance of Life.

“Munch’s first version dates from 1899-1900 and hangs alongside the iconic The Scream in Oslo’s National Gallery. This work is among the greatest of all Expressionist masterpieces remaining in private hands — its shattering emotional impact remains as powerful today as in 1906.”

Munch’s childhood was filled with death and sickness – both his mother and sister died of tuberculosis and his father suffered from mental illness, leading Munch to view his life as dominated by the "twin black angels of insanity and disease."

Dance on the Beach captures a sense of life playing out before his eyes. The commission was painted while the artist was in the grip of addiction and only two years before he had a nervous breakdown and spent time in a clinic in Copenhagen. In the foreground, two of his greatest loves are depicted – Tulla Larsen and Millie Thaulow.

Part of 12 canvases, the other works are now owned by museums, making this the last in private hands.

Dance on the Beach is being sold following an agreement between the Olsen and Glaser families. It will be offered on March 1 at Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary auction in London.

Glaser’s legacy is currently being celebrated by an exhibition at the Kunstmuseum in Basel, which is displaying 200 works together for the first time since they were dispersed in 1933. The exhibition is open until February 12.