On Munch, and the Sun and the Moon
I was born in 1912 in Christiania. My father was from Hamburg, in Germany, and my mother was Norwegian. They were in Christiania for eight years. I was born here, but afterwards they went back again to Hamburg. I think my parents met at a ball. My mother went to Hamburg with an aunt in order to be introduced or something. My father was a merchant in fish oil, as his father and the father of his father, etcetera. They met in Hamburg, and became engaged as one did at that time, and then afterwards my father went on a trip the world round, and when he had come back and settled down, they married and settled down here in Oslo (at that time called Christiania, after the Danish King Christian).
I believe they settled down here because she was Norwegian and he wanted to leave Hamburg for a while. He also thought there were better business chances (for fish oils) here than in Hamburg. When he was living here in Oslo, he met Edvard Munch. I would say, he saw this Diorama exposition, I think, the first one, and he became very interested in him at once. It may have been through Pola Gauguin that he first came into contact with Munch. I don’t know, but he became very good friends with Pola Gauguin, in any case.
His reaction to the Diorama show? Well, he said it was quite something new. He came from Hamburg from a Victorian atmosphere – what shall I say? – very moral, very petite bourgeois? And morals were very strict in Hamburg. So it was quite a new thing.
What other people thought about the show? I know that the newspaper Aftenposten wrote horrible things about it. But from Hamburg, I know that my family, when they were invited to Sunday afternoon tea or something, they said: “Oh, what is it? He must be quite crazy!”
I think the Diorama show was in 1906 or 1908 or something like that. I can’t say exactly which year he met Munch, but it must have been before the First World War in any case. And they were probably introduced by Pola Gauguin. Munch and my father were together very often. And then my father became good friends with Ludvig Ravensberg, a cousin to Munch, and also a painter. Ravensberg was a very educated and cultivated man. Living quite alone, at the very start with his old parents, and he was so shy that he never dared to show is paintings to anyone. My father said that Munch laughed at that and even claimed that Ravensberg’s mother had woven his name and “left” and “right” into his socks, so he could find which went on which foot.
In a way I think he was the first art dealer for Munch. He was the man who picked out Skrubben in Kragerø, this house where Munch lived, after he came back to Norway from his sickness in Copenhagen. Ravensberg was only shy about his own things, not at all shy when it came to the works of others, as Munch for instance. He did many good things to Munch, I should think. Introduced him to Stang, and other important persons as Jens Thiis, who were the first collectors of Munch’s paintings. It was not until he married as a man of 80 years, that Ravensberg finally had the courage to show his paintings to others. To Munch he was family. He knew him, and knew he was a very, very important man who knew much about art.
I was not here in Oslo, but living in Hamburg for a number of years. My father was here three times a year for one or two months or so to oversee his Norwegian business, and then he telephoned to Munch or Munch to him. I know this lady who was at the office at that time had to tell Munch was here, and when Munch had telephoned, my father had to go – whist! – right away. Munch couldn’t wait then.
When I made the acquaintance of Munch, he never spoke about his art, but talked about other things like taxes. He was very occupied with the taxes. And he went only to a few places, some restaurants in Oslo. Among them was a pub called Original Pilsen in Tollbugaten, close to the Main Post Office and harbor area. The pub was called so because they at one point sold original Pilsen beer from Czechoslovakia. The main point for Munch, however, was that nobody knew him there. He also went to Engebret close the Central Bank. He had even his own streets where he knew he couldn’t meet any people. He was too sensible for such encounters. My father used to go to restaurants with him. I don’t know what they talked about. Fathers do not tell their children everything, do they?
I met Munch at Ekely, where he lived and had his studio. My father took me with him. At that time Munch had an eye sickness and had a pirate’s patch over his eye. I was a young man of twenty and something, and I remember Munch had a bottle of hock in his bathtub to make it cool. And then the three of us had a drink. I did not know much about Munch before I met him. I was living in Germany then, and there nobody spoke of Munch. But I was struck by what a beautiful and handsome man he was. I did not have the economic possibilities myself to buy any of his work. And then came Hitler and my father had to put his paintings in a bank vault, which did no good to the paintings because the vault was damp. And after the war, English forces moved into his house, and he couldn’t take that and he sold them. My mother died early, and my father married again, and she inherited everything.
My thoughts about Munch? Well, when you grow older, your opinions about many things changes. At the beginning, I thought he was a queer man, of course. But I liked him very much, and I saw him from time to time in the streets here, and he was very nice, very gentle always.
The German born artist Rolf Nesch was living in Hamburg, and he had to flee, or thought he had to, and since my father had told him about Munch and Norway – and he went up there. He wanted to live on Husbergøya, an island just outside Oslo where we had our plant then, but that’s impossible during the winter, so he then had a house at Nesøya, which is close to Sandvika. And when I came up to Norway in 1934, I lived at his house. I rented a room in Nesch’s house, and Nesch and I were very much together at that time.
If Munch knew Nesch? Yes. Nesch visited him, but nothing came out of it. It was impossible, but everybody of the painters who visited Munch said: “Oh!”, and afterwards said that Munch encouraged them very much.
Munch said one thing which I remember very well: “All these reproductions haven’t done Raphael any good.” I often wonder what he would have thought now seeing all the reproductions of his own works. But you can’t have old things back again. He was very interested in Raphael and Michelangelo and all the great Italian artists. And of course Toulouse-Lautrec with his lines. He has been influenced by all that. He saw Gauguin and Manet when he was living in Paris. Somebody said, I think it was a German gallery owner, that Munch was a man who always lived in the right places at the right time. And there might be something in it. Berlin when Strindberg, Przybyszewski lived there, and then Paris.
He participated in this competition for the Aula paintings, but was not chosen. I think there were many disputes. This was, and still is, a small country, and a small own here and much – not only competition – but one envies of another, and he was alone, Munch. As far as I know he did not participate in the artist’s life of the town and such things. He didn’t belong to any group. In the short term it was maybe a disadvantage for him, kind of. He was much more – he was of another scale like the others, too. They couldn’t communicate, I should think. But he was very interested in Hans Jaeger who was also a lonely man.
If people had a sense of reverence for Munch? Or whether they thought he was a master? Well, probably the other artists. The other citizens had heard that he had positions in other countries, and that he was recognized there, and so they looked at him with other eyes.
Impressed? Perhaps. It must have been awful difficult for Munch to write his last will, and to find out what he should do with the things. Pola Gauguin was one of his closets friends, and it was an awful mess – everything. All of his beautiful prints lying like that – in a house open to everybody, no police, nothing.
I don’t think he had his prints around like that on purpose. He hadn’t the strength to have it. He was not a curator, either. He was not the director of a museum. He was a man who produced.
He had earlier said you have to look at everything together, like he wanted to make a big exposition of his things, or something. Everything. He was like Picasso; working every day. Nothing else. So he hadn’t the time to organize things. But he kept old letters, everything, didn’t throw away a thing, I believe.
And as for him having his paintings outside, he did not have the resources to make a better studio than what he had. The works for the Aula collection were so big it was impossible to have them in the house. But afterwards he had this studio built, the one still standing up at Ekely, and there were much better conditions.
Where does one’s interests come from? You are a product of your parents, You are a product of your circumstances. You are a product of the sun and the moon and the stars at the time when you are born. There are many explanations. You never know.
Based on an interview with Carl H. Hudtwalcker by Sarah G. Epstein and Leslie Prosterman in Oslo on 20 June 1984.