Christie’s announced on Wednesday that Edvard Munch’s Fertility, estimated at between $25 and $35 million will be sold in New York this May:
Painted in the late 1890s, Fertility was originally purchased in 1902 by Dr. Max Linde, the German patron responsible for helping Munch establish his career in Germany. Since 1918, the large-format painting has remained in private collections in Scandinavia. […] At nearly 4 feet high by 4½ feet wide, Fertility is the one of the largest works of Munch’s early career.
Rendered in verdant greens with rich orange, red, and yellow accents, the painting’s focal point is a lush fruit tree laden with ripe red cherries. A man and woman dressed in rustic work clothes stand facing each other on either side of the tree, creating a tableau reminiscent of Adam and Eve before the Tree of Life. Though the woman’s visible pregnancy and the scene’s lush greenery seem to communicate a theme of regeneration and hope, a fresh wound – as from a newly-cut bough – mars the tree trunk between the two figures and lends the scene an ominous, unsettled element.
Painted in the final years of the 1890s, Fertility – alternatively titled Fruitfulness – dates from a period of Munch’s career characterized by remarkable creative output and difficult personal affairs. In 1898, he commenced a relationship with Tulla Larsen, the beautiful daughter of a wealthy wine merchant from Kristiania, as Olso was then called. Unlike Munch, whose father was a devout military doctor, Tulla was part of the moneyed bourgeois class. Their affair was a tumultuous one, and although plans were made for the pair to wed, the relationship came to a violent end in 1902, when an argument led to a self-inflicted gun-shot wound that took off part of a finger on Munch’s left hand. Scholars suggest the red-haired woman depicted in Fertility, and in an earlier, possibly related work Metabolism, is likely Tulla.