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The woodcut The Girls on the Bridge, executed in 1918, is a variation on a motif that Munch had first explored in the summer of 1901 in a painting now held at the National Gallery, Oslo (NG.M.00844, formerly Olaf Schou collection, Woll 483). The subject is one of the most significant and memorable of the artist’s motifs.
The three girls gazing into the water are symbols of youth and early adolescence. They are depicted on the pier at Åsgårdstrand, the village on the shores of the Oslofjord, where Munch owned a small house and where he worked during long summer evenings. The house in the background is the house of the Kiosterud family with the white garden fence and the linden trees grown tightly around.
This shoreline featured prominently in his early work, including prints such as Attraction I, 1896 and Melancholy II, 1898. In these, as in the present work, the landscape plays a dynamic role equal to the human presence.
In his painted oeuvre, Munch revisited the theme of The Girls on the Bridge seven times, each time modulating the scene, turning the figures to face the viewer, adding further characters in conversational groups, and allowing the girls to age with the passing years. Importantly, Munch stressed that creating variations of a subject did not constitute repetition in his work. He stated, ‘I never make copies of my paintings. And whenever I have used the same motif again, it has been solely… because it allows me to find out so much more about that motif.’
The present example of this woodcut is a very rare version printed in blue with a trace of green lithograph in the trees. After 1909 Munch’s favoured printer was Anton Peder Nielsen who printed proofs and small editions on Munch’s own presses. He was expert at both woodcut and lithograph printing. There are some examples in black only as well as the more frequently seen examples with more lithographic overprinting. This is a particularly striking colour proof of this memorable subject.