Exhibition: Emin/Munch, The Loneliness of the Soul

1st August 2021

On the 29th of July I visited the Emin and Munch exhibition, ‘The Loneliness of the Soul’, which was held at the Royal Academy in London. For me, I had been eagerly awaiting this exhibition as I am a great admirer of Emin’s work much to the disgust of everyone I know. Tracy Emin’s work is dismissed by my friends and family, they have little regard for her themes and art style and as I was taking my fourteen year old and my friend along with me, I knew I was in for some great discussions.

This exhibition marks the first time that the work of these two artists, born one hundred years apart, has been shown together. Tracy Emin (b.1963) discovered the work of the celebrated Norwegian Modernist artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) even before attending art school. Drawn to the deep and often raw, emotional content of his work, she immediately recognised Munch as ‘a friend in art’.

Royal Academy (2021: FC)

The content of both Emin’s and Munch’s work showed the viewer emotional and psychological complexities often connected to themes connected with relationships and inner self conflicts. Emin’s work reflects very similar inner torment that I also have, due to Complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and I see myself as the subject matter in her paintings. I feel as though we are bonded through mutual experiences and I understand the torment she has been through and the emotional and psychological scars that you are left with.

For this exhibition it was Emin who had chose which Munch paintings would hang beside hers. In the Friends exhibition guide there is an interview with Emin and she states that she went through, ‘…all of Munch’s archive. I looked at 800 paintings, 2000 watercolours, millions of woodcuts and graphic works… I went for loneliness and vulnerability and the fragileness of the emotions…’ Royal Academy (2021:FC).

It was interesting to note the similarities in both Emin and Munch’s work. Although their technique and visual content is different, the context of their work however tells a shared narrative concerned with the pitfalls of relationships and the anguish they bring. Munch and Emin share the anguish and miseries of life and this can be felt by viewing their work. To accompany her works, Emin gives titles that are real and honest.

Emin also shocks viewers with her titles which do not need interpreting, they tell us point blank that which she sees, thinks or feels, for example, ‘I wanted you to come over me’ (2019).

Emin shows her heartbreak, pain and loneliness with powerful and expressive lines which often sweep across the canvas. There are running drips of paint which seem like tears washing through the imagery as though desperately trying to hide her self-exposed form. Her work is concerned with her own form, bare and exposed, it is her vulnerability which she lets us see and feel, as though we are bed fellows.

Her colours are those that I use when I work with paints. For me they represent the colours used on cave walls, the first images man had made, raw and simple, like my inner feelings, primeval. For Emin they represent torment, red represents the colour of a victim and the power of emotion.

Emin uses her body as a battlefield to express her life trauma: legs splayed apart, bloodstained strokes, the outline of a crouching female figure either disappearing or emerging. The expressionism of her paintings convey a range of emotions – passion, salvation, grief, suffering, vulnerability – that are central to Munch’s art, and more specifically in this exhibition, to his paintings of troubled women.

Dresch, E. (2021)

In contrast Munch uses a wider palette of colour in his oils and watercolours. Within his work he applies lines and washes, his figure forms are recognisable and often shown within a basic environment, a room, or on a bed. In comparison his content is created from a far tighter technique using heavy, bold lines and the emotion is seen within the figures poses coupled with his choice of colours.

The work below shows how Emin has traces of Munch’s compositions within her own.

In conclusion, for me, this exhibition was a huge hit. It was full of turmoil and emotion with a strong narrative running throughout the exhibition. To see how Emin relates to Munch was interesting and the similarities in content is an eye opener for me as I didn’t know that Emin had been influenced in Munch this way.

As for my partners in crime who visited the exhibition… they left with the feeling the exhibition, especially Emin’s work was awful, “Children could do better!” apparently… ‘ I Hang my head in despair!’


Fig. 5 Edvard Munch (1907) The Death of Marat At:https://www.edvardmunch.org/death-of-marat.jsp (Accessed 03.08.2021)



Dresch, E. (2021) Tracey Emin/ Edvard Munch exhibition, Royal Academy ★★★★★. At: https://www.culturewhisper.com/r/visual_arts/tracey_emin_edvard_munch_exhibition_royal_academy/15814 (Accessed 03.08.2021)


Exhibition Guide for Friends (2021:FC) Emin/ Munch, The Lonleness of the Soul. Royal Academy of Arts: London

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