In the summer of 1889, Edvard Munch begins his lifelong relationship with Åsgårdstrand. Pola Gaugin wrote:
“It was in the summer of 1889 that Munch settled down for the first time in Åsgårdstrand, that little patch of Norwegian land that would become so important to him in so many ways. One could say that once he arrived in Åsgårdstrand, the landscape became a living component of his art, along with summer and the sun. There is more depth to his colours …”
The family rents Thorine’s house, now Edvard Munchsgate 33. Munch writes to his Aunt Karen:
“I haven‘t managed to find a place like the one we spoke of – but I have, however, rented a house – a delightful house right by the sea, a short distance from Åsgårdstrand itself, secluded and with a garden. The price is 70 kroner for the summer, and it has 3 exceptionally nice rooms. It is a terribly pleasant and beautiful place, and the air down here is lovely.”
A series of paintings shows how Munch begins to explore the shoreline, which would practically become his Åsgårdstrand trademark over the next few years. Munch’s sister, Inger, is the model for such paintings as “Inger on the beach” and “Evening Talk.
Edvard Munch spends time with other artists, including Hans Heyerdahl and Sigurd Bødtker, as well as Christian and Oda Krogh. Munch is godfather to the Kroghs’ son, Per, baptised in Borre church.
Over the years Munch rents lodgings in various boarding houses before purchasing his first property in 1898. Today this property is known as Munch’s house.
Edvard Munch’s dream house
“I am sitting in the only pleasant house I have ever lived in – the house in Åsgårdstrand”
Following the summers in Thorine’s house, Munch rents lodgings in various locations in Åsgårdstrand before finally purchasing his “dream house” in 1898, and establishes an atelier on the property in 1899. This purchase seems to provide Munch with an even greater connection with the area. He describes his feelings about having a home of his own:
“- It was strange being alone– in one’s own house. This was his Property – It hadn’t cost much, and it was nothing fancy, but it was his, and out there in the Garden were all his Trees – Stones – the Beach – and the Waves washing against the Stones. It was his sky up there, and his Stars -“.
His friend Christian Gierløff writes vividly about Munch’s relationship with his home:
“Åsgårdstrand, the city of jasmine! The city of lilacs and jasmine. – The home of peace.” – Åsgårdstrand is the place for him!”
And then about the purchase in 1898:
“This was and is the happiest day in Edvard Munch’s life. A new era. A foundation. An anchorage. And fruit trees, berry bushes, ornate flower beds with asters and stock. A sheer gold mine of a carefully tended vegetable garden growing deep beneath the earth. Lilacs and jasmine. At the edge of the great Fjugstad forest. Many funny old people. Many cute, sweet children. Peace and friendship everywhere, and what a moonbeam across the sea! –
The exhilaration he felt was unparalleled! Frederick the Great surely never had so joyful a day in his Sanssouci, nor the Sun King in his Versailles. – In those days, Munch’s Versailles stood just a pleasant stroll from Åsgårdstrand City. There among the hotels lived Oslo’s artistic beau monde and fine folk from Drammen in Berlinian and Parisian fashion. Åsgårdstrand and Paris. Here he could live cheaply and independently on growth from the soil and a few sous, and paint, paint!”
Longed for Åsgårdstrand
It was Åsgårdstrand Edvard Munch longed for when he was abroad. His correspondence with family and friends tells of plans for the garden, preparations and purchases, – and of longing:
“I am so unbearably tired of travel and exhibitions – and long deeply for my house and my work.”
Edvard Munch in Borre
The Munch family spends the summer of 1885 in what was then the municipality of Borre (now Horten), and he visits Åsgårdstrand as well. His family rents the residence Grønlia from the family Deberitz, parents of the painter Per Deberitz. Deberitz relates his memories of Munch, how he always hurried about with large canvases, and how he painted pictures of boys bathing along the Borre’s long beach.
The love affair
The painter Hans Heyerdahl spends his first summer in Åsgårdstrand this same year. Heyerdahl and Munch visit together during the holiday. This summer Munch also begins a love affair with Milly Thaulow (née Ihlen), a married woman. Her family had a summer house at Villa Solbakken near Borre church.
Milly came to symbolise Munch’s encounter with the female gender:
“I stood before the mystery of the woman – I gazed into another world.”
In later literary texts written by Munch, he mentions how they meet in secret, infatuated and inseparable on the beaches and in the forests of Åsgårdstrand and Borre. He describes the anguish and joy of their relationship. It has often been suggested that these experiences provided the background for many of the romantic motifs in Munch’s great artistic project of the 1890s, “The Frieze of Life”.
Pola Gaugin writes that Munch must have been drawn to Åsgårdstrand even then, that the landscape called to him:
“There is something strange about the road along the sea from Borre to Åsgårdstrand. It is as if it draws people to it, causing them to gaze further out. The long curved line of glittering light on the edge of the shore – with its large, polished rocks rolling quietly and softly into the sea – is like a string of pearls. The eyes can’t help but follow.”
Munch on Veierland and Tjøme
In 1887, the Munch family spends time on Veierland, where they rent a place from the Paulsen family. Here Munch paints “Veierland near Tønsberg”.
Edvard Munch takes a sailing trip in 1888, arriving in Tønsberg, where he visits the painter Karl Dørnberger. Later in the summer, the Munch family rents the Dørnberger’s summer house at Vrengensundet, between Tjøme and Nøtterøy. Artworks created during this stay include “Laura and Inger in the Summer Sun”, “At the General Store in Vrengen” and “Evening”. Munch visits Åsgårdstrand in the fall.