A Munch painting once hidden from the Nazis in the Norwegian wood to be offered in London

In 2012, one version of the iconic The Scream stunned the art scene as it sold for a whopping US$119 million at Sotheby's. Up to the present, it is still the tenth-most expensive painting ever auctioned.

Eleven years later, another seminal painting by Edvard Munch, Dance on the Beach, will head to the auction block at Sotheby's London on 1 March with an estimate between £12 and 20 million (US$15 and 25 million). Measuring over four metres wide, the artwork was hidden in a barn in a Norwegian forest alongside The Scream during the Second World War.

The proceeds from the sale will be split between the present owner and the family of the Jewish collector who was forced to sell it when fleeing the Nazis. 

Details of Dance on the Beach

Edvard Munch | Dans på stranden (Reinhardt-frisen) (Dance on the Beach (The Reinhardt Frieze)), Tempera on canvas
Created in 1906-07
90 x 402.6 cm
Provenance (Edited by The Value; Official version to be published):

  • Commissioned by Max Reinhardt for his theatre in Berlin
  • Curt Glaser (acquired from the above in 1912)
  • Thomas Olsen, Oslo (acquired at a Norwegian auction in 1934)
  • Thence by descent to the present owners

Estimate upon request (in the region of £12,000,000 - 20,000,000 / US$15,000,000 - 25,000,000)

Auction House: Sotheby's London
Sale: Modern & Contemporary Evening Auction
Date: 1 March 2023

The tumultuous journey of Dance on the Beach began in 1906, when Munch was commissioned by Max Reinhardt, a world-famous film theatre director, to design the sets for his newly-purchased theatre in Berlin, which was to stage Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts and Hedda Gabler. 

In creating his avant-garde theatre in the round, Reinhardt also asked Munch to create a frieze to be placed in a hall on the upper level, immersing the audience in the artist's vision – which, in his own words, were 'images from the modern psyche'. 

The installation art, consisting of twelve canvases with the four-metre-long Dance on the Beach as the centerpiece, is known as The Reinhardt Frieze – all but the present lot of which are now housed in museum collections in Germany, including Berlin’s National Gallery, the Hamburg Kunsthalle and Folkwang Museum, Essen. 

In 1912, when the theatre was refurbished, the frieze was split up and this work was acquired by leading art historian and curator Professor Curt Galser, who at the time was a central figure in Berlin's art scene, holding a position as the director of the Berlin State of Art Library. 

Dance on the Beach was placed in a hall on the upper level of the Deutsches Theater in Berlin 

Max Reinhardt was a renowned film and theatre director and actor

After the Nazis came to power in 1933, Glaser, persecuted for his Jewish background, was forced out of his job and his department was taken. Escaping from the Nazis, he sold his art collection and fled to Switzerland, eventually making his way to America, where he passed away in 1943.

And it was how Dance on the Beach found its second owner – Thomas Olsen, a shipowner and patron of Munch’s, who acquired the work at an auction house in Oslo in 1934. Interestingly, both Glaser and Olsen were close friends of Munch, so important to the artist that he painted portraits of their wives.

The painting then found its way to the First Class lounge of the MS Black Watch, the shipping magnate's passenger liner which travelled between Oslo and Newcastle. As Britain declared war on Germany in 1939, he removed the artwork and brought all his Munch paintings to a remote barn in a Norwegian forest, keeping them out of the hands of German soldiers. These hidden artworks include one of four versions of The Scream, which the Olsen family sold at Sotheby's for a then record US$119.9 million in 2012. 

Since Dance on the Beach was sold by Glaser under duress, it has been agreed by the Olsens and the Glasers that the sale proceeds will be divided by the two families. 

Portriats of wives of Elsa and Curt Glaser by Edvard Munch | The collection of Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway

MS Black Watch, a cruise ship of Thomas Oslen's passenger liner

Dance on the Beach was hung in the First Class lounge of the MS Black Watch 

Dance on the Beach and one version of The Scream were hidden from the Nazis in a barn in the Norwegian forest

With a horizontal composition, Dance on the Beach features whirling couples dancing across the canvas. In the foreground, two of his greatest loves haunt the canvas – Tulla Larsen and Millie Thaulow.

On the left is Tulla, who has blonde hair and donned a white dress. The daughter a wealthy wine merchant, she had received elite education since young, studying English, German, math, music, as well as graphic art. When she returned to Oslo, she became involved in the local art scene, where she encountered Munch and had since been in love with the artist.

Even though they spent great times together traveling and drinking, the two were stuck in a passionately tormenting love affair, frequently arguing and quarelling with each other.

And, one day after four years of their relationship, the tension finally broke out – a gunshot was fired inside Munch's apartment. No one was quite sure what had happened, except that Munch's left hand was permanently hurt, while Tulla married another artist soon after.

Tulla Larsen in Dance on the Beach

Photograph of Edvard Munch and Tulla Larsen

Millie Thaulow in Dance on the Beach

Millie Thaulow

On the right who appeared dusky and ghostly is Millie Thaulow, his cousin's wife and the first love of Munch – a love affair that also ended in heartbreak. 

Munch had his first sexual experience with Millie in the summer of 1885, when he was 21 years old; they would meet in the woods near a fishing village. Two years later, Millie took the initiative to end their forbidden love, leaving the artist devastated.

Describing the relationship, the artist once wrote, ‘I learned the power of two eyes that grow as large as globes close to me – emitting invisible threads which – would steal into my blood – my heart.' While the Norwegian master never married for his lifetime, his two great loves became a source of inspiration for him, paintings of which are now housed in major museums around the world.

On a side note, in March 2021, a nearly-two-metre-wide painting by Munch, Summer Day or Embrace on the Beach (The Linde Frieze), was sold at Sotheby's London, going for £16.3 million (around US$19.6 million) to an Asian buyer. 

Edvard Munch | Summer Day or Embrace on the Beach (The Linde Frieze) | Sold for £16.3 million to an Asian buyer, Sotheby's London, March 2021