Elizabeth Prelinger

Lecture 13: Shaping and Controlling an Artistic Reputation: Edvard Munch's Dilemma   


Typically an artist has no choice but to surrender appraisal of his or her work to the tyranny of the critical-artistic industry. However, in some cases both an artist’s work and his reputation are hijacked for a variety of reasons by hostile forces, and exploited for political capital and even financial gain.

This was the fate of the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, who, after experiencing sometimes virulently ambivalent critical reception, was ultimately recognized as an artist of the first importance, particularly in the Nordic world. In 1915-16, during WWI, Munch returned to Norway after his peripatetic life. There, his style and subject matter took a new direction and he devoted considerable effort to constructing its reception even as he progressively withdrew into the relative isolation of life on his private estate outside of Oslo.

But during WWII, after Germany invaded neutral Norway in April 1940, the trouble began. Profoundly anti-Nazi, the artist was stunned and infuriated by their coöpting of his reputation; despite his “modern style” and his abhorrence of their occupation of his country, the Nazis declared Munch a German “cultural hero” and claimed him as one of their own.This talk will examine aspects of how Munch, in the latter part of his career, navigated between his personal artistic goals and the imperatives imposed on them from without.


Dr. Elizabeth Prelinger is Keyser Family Professor of Art History at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where she has taught for 32 years.

Over the past three decades, she has written exhibition catalogues, articles, and book reviews in addition to lecturing in the U.S., Canada, France, Great Britain, and Norway. Subjects she has worked with include American architecture; German, French, and American 19th- and 20th- century art; Expressionism; Symbolism; Romanticism; Abstraction; and Museum Practices.

Dr. Prelinger has curated and written the catalogues for a number of exhibitions on Munch, at Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the High Museum in Atlanta, and most recently in 2010 at the National Gallery of Art, working with Mellon Curator Emeritus Andrew Robison. In 1992, working with Judith Brodie, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Prints at the National Gallery, she curated an international loan show of the work of the German artist Käthe Kollwitz, and in 2012 wrote the catalogue for an exhibition of Paul Gauguin’s prints at the Kunsthaus in Zurich. In the winter of 2018 Dr. Prelinger co-curated an exhibition for Georgetown’s Special Collections on WWI culture entitled “A War to End All Wars?” Many items from her personal collection were included.

Diana Clarke