Art & Food: Edvard Munch at The Courtauld & Lunch at Joe Allen

An email from The Courtauld alerted me that the Edvard Munch exhibition I wanted to see was ending at the weekend. I knew very little of Munch apart from his famous and iconic painting The Scream, which has so often been used as a symbol of the anxiety of the human condition. After reading the Guardian‘s glowing 5* review of the Courtauld’s exhibition in May, I realised there was much more to Munch than this one painting and thought it would be interesting to see and learn more.

A fast train to Waterloo had me in central London in under half an hour and The Courtauld is just a short walk across Waterloo Bridge, housed in Somerset House.

The exhibition contains just 18 paintings by the Norwegian artist, Edward Munch (1863-1944), which formed a private collection by Norwegian industrialist Rasmus Meyer.

Although this is a small number for a major exhibition, it’s fascinating to see how quickly Munch’s work developed from early works inspired by the French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist movements to the richly coloured paintings full of emotion and often angst that we are familiar with. As the exhibition notes tell us: ‘Munch intended these paintings to convey different aspects of human emotion and experience, entwining feelings of love and desire with those of anxiety and a fascination with death.’ If this sounds a bit grim, then there’s no denying that many of the paintings are as angst-ridden and disturbing as The Scream, but some, particularly the early ones are easier viewing. A portrait of a friend’s wife, Marie Helene Holmboe, painted in 1898, displays a friendly bond between artist and sitter; a portrait of his sister, Summer Night. Inger on the Beach (1889) shows a woman in thoughtful mode but there’s nothing sinister about it. Munch had a fascination with the different stages of women’s lives and Four Stages of Life (1902) shows four women from girl to old woman – the child is full of joy in life, but each successive age brings increasing despair. Such paintings are inevitably rather grim – the Guardian review is headed: A Magical Misery Tour – but I still found them fascinating to see. They are paintings which demand your attention and, as the artist intended, elicit a strong emotional reaction.

I’m really glad I made it to the exhibition but it was lunchtime as I came out and definitely something a little lighter and more fun was needed! I decided to head to my old favourite, Joe Allen, which was close by.

I was once a regular here – for many years – but hadn’t been back since pre-covid days. It was wonderfully familiar as I went in and I was shown downstairs to my favourite eating area. It was early so hardly anyone else had come in but gradually more tables filled as I ate my lunch.

There’s a set lunch and early evening menu at £23.50 for 2 courses; £27.50 for 3 courses. But I prefer a lighter meal at lunchtime and thus opted for a Chicken & Avocado Caesar salad (£17.50) from the A la Carte menu.

I’ve always loved the Caesar salad at Joe’s but the addition of chicken – still warm from being freshly cooked – turned the salad into a great meal. Tender pieces of chicken, light crispy croutons, a few anchovies, and some avocado, all resting on a bed of crisp lettuce and coated in that gorgeous iconic Caesar dressing. It was a perfect lunch.

I had just sparkling water with it and an espresso at the end. The bill, including service, was £27.56.

Joe Allen’s was as lovely as always; the service friendly and efficient; and I was pleased to see the familiar face of co-owner Tim Healy on the way out and have a quick catch-up and chat. I promised to be back soon!

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

6 thoughts on “Art & Food: Edvard Munch at The Courtauld & Lunch at Joe Allen

  1. I must get back into the habit of London exhibitions although we’ve been lucky enough to have two notable ones here in Bath this summer: Mary Fedden and early David Hockney drawings. Your mention of Joe Allen reminds me of working in London and occasionally eating there. A whole other life!

  2. Never heard of Joe Allen but would definitely try it when I go see ‘Pretty Woman’ at the Savoy. From the look of it, it’s not too far away. Thank you!

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