Above: The unfinished portrait of "Eva," possibly by Edvard Munch, owned by St. Olaf College. All images courtesy of Steven Garcia.
The unfinished painting of British violinist Eva Mudocci, who was Munch's lover, has not been authenticated yet, but pigments, binders and fillers from the work that were tested by the New York/Philadelphia-based Scientific Analysis of Fine Art (SAFA) offer compelling clues.
The scientists found strontium yellow, a pigment used for only a short period of time at the turn of the 20th century. Artists stopped using it around 1909-10 because it turned a greenish hue.
"This pigment was only in use when Munch and Mudocci were known to be together," said Jane Becker Nelson, director of St. Olaf's Flaten Art Museum.
There was also an absence of blue and green pigments. If those had shown up, it would have indicated that the work was made later. The experts compared the materials to other paintings they have studied, and the 900 paint tubes in Munch's studio that they have catalogued.
“Some propose that the work was created or faked a decade later,” said Nelson. “But the absence of those pigments shoots that theory down.”
Scientists from SAFA came to St. Olaf last October to take samples. St. Olaf officials got the news around the holidays, but waited to share the info because they wanted to reach out to the Munch scholarly community.
The college also has a record of the piece’s ownership, save for one gap at the beginning of the piece’s existence. “Eva” was donated to St. Olaf in 1999 by alumnus Richard Tetlie as part of a 2,000-piece art collection. Tetlie purchased the painting for $10,000 from a dealer named Poul Rée, who bought it in 1959 from an auction house in Copenhagen. The painting was originally owned by Kay Nielsen, who knew Mudocci. Tetlie often purchased works that were unauthenticated. Previously, a painting of his thought to be by El Greco, an artist of the Spanish Renaissance, proved not to be.
It is believed that the painting was made between 1900 and 1904. Munch and Mudocci met in 1903. They had a romantic relationship, and she inspired his famous lithograph “The Lady With the Brooch.” They were lovers until 1908-09, and stayed in touch until 1927.
So what more is needed to truly prove that this is a Munch? Art authentication relies on three factors: provenance (record of ownership), forensic evidence (this test) and stylistic analysis. They've got the first two, and now they have to go after the Munch scholarly community to pass the final test.
“We had a difficult time turning the heads of Munch scholars,” said Nelson. “But with these two things in hand we are having more significant results.”
This summer, Nelson and a student assistant will take a trip to Oslo to spend time at the Munch Museum, where they’ll meet leading members of the Munch scholarly community. She’s looking forward to discussing the evidence with them.
“We want to host a symposium here within the next year that would bring key Munch scholars together,” said Nelson. “It would be a major step if that happened.”
However “real” the piece ends up being, Tetlie’s request was that St. Olaf not sell it, and that it remain in the collection.
A popular 20th century artist, the Norweigan artist Edvard Munch is best known for his iconic painting “The Scream” (1893), which is so popular that it often times appears on T-shirts and mugs. Everyone can identify with the painting's all-encompassing anxiety.
Above: A close-up of the label on "Eva."