Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
Even the Norwegians had never seen anything quite like it, this exhibition of a national treasure that the American ambassador to Norway called "Norway's Tutankhamen."
Princess Sonja spent 45 minutes taking it all in and later told a select group of lenders, contributors, fellow countrymen and Washington officialdom that it is "one of the largest and most comprehensive (exhibits) ever shown outside Norway. And I think also in Norway."
The occasion was the preview Thursday night of the show titled "Edward Munch: Symbols and Images," a collection of 24 rarely seen works of the tormented frontiersman of expressionism who died, lonely and isolated in 1944.
It was an evening for which the principals who put the show together could be justifiably proud. It was also a rare view of Washington for most of the guest dining on crabe Nordique, filet de boeuf bouquetiere and mousse de creme burlee .
"It could very well be the only time dinner will be served in this space looking across to the Capitol," National Gallery Director J. Carter Brown told the black-tie crowd looking out on expanses of glass in the East Building's Study Center, which is not scheduled to open until 1980.
If that was a view to write home about, there were some in the crowd who thought it still couldn't hold a candle to the one five floors below where the Munch paintings, drawings and sketches filled 12,000 square feet of exhibition space (and will continue to do so through Feb. 19.)
Princes Sonja, the commoner who married her high-school sweatheart, Crown Prince Harald, was the show's honorary patron. Arriving promptly at 7:45 p.m., she was met by Brown for a personally conducted pre-dinner tour.
And just in case commoners think princesses don't have to pinch themselves once in a while to make sure they aren't dreaming, Norway's Sonja made no attempt to hide her ethusiasm.
"How many times in one day can one be excited?" she said of a day that had already included lunch with former astronaut Michael Collins, a tour of Hillwood and tea with Rosalynn Carter.
U.S. Ambassador Louis A. Lerner, whose own collection of contemporary America art hands in the Oslo embassy, said Sonja's interest in art is so intense that she learned about every artist in his collection before coming to dinner there one night.
Lerner provided what he called "some help on a diplomatic basis" in helping Brown put the Munch show together. His very first luncheon guest, when he first took over his diplomatic post, had been Washington attorney Lionel Epstein, a foremost collector and recognized Thursday night as guest curator of the exhibition's prints.
Two weeks ago Lerner entertained Norweigan lenders to the exhibition, having seen their art works shipped off to the United States in specially crafted crates.
"In Norway, even those crates were works of art," marveled Lerner.