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Northern Consciousness and National Identity: Edvard Munch and Scotland

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Vee Pollock


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The 38th Annual Exhibition of the Society of Scottish Artists in 1931 included twelve paintings by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. This article assesses the implications that the inclusion of Munch's works had on Scottish art and considers the concept of 'northern consciousness'. Firstly the arrangement and character of the exhibition are examined before an analysis of the 'national' aspects of Munch's works in the context of the cultural nationalism of Johannes Gotfried Herder. Finally, through an examination of the influence of the exhibition on William MacTaggart and William Gillies the debate regarding the existence of a national tradition and 'northern consciousness' in Scottish Art is critically considered. Through these means, this article argues that the manner in which Munch constructed a vision of Norwegian national identity was not a viable option for Scottish artists - whilst Scottish artists could be influenced by and aspire towards Munch's painting on an aesthetic level, the philisophical implications of his work remain unrealised, partly due to differing social and political contexts. It is argued that Munch represented what Scotland lacked - a modern artist projecting, in the works exhibited at the SSA, a cogent vision of national identity.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Pollock VL

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Scottish Studies Review

Year: 2002

Volume: 3

Issue: 1

Pages: 58-71

ISSN (print): 1475-7737

Publisher: Association for Scottish Literary Studies