A cultured cruise through Norway’s fjords | Travel

It is one of the world’s most parodied paintings. The central figure has been mimicked by everyone from Macaulay Culkin to Homer Simpson and Scooby-Doo, and the haunted face with gaping mouth and hollow eyes inspired an entire franchise of horror films, and even an emoji.

In the flesh, as it were, all that extraneous noise disappears, and you’re struck by the tormented power of the painting. The setting helps — the new Munch Museum in Oslo presents three versions of The Scream (the painting, a drawing and a lithographic print) in a low-lit anteroom. This dark cocoon isn’t designed to cultivate feelings of existential angst, but that is a fringe benefit of the conditions necessary to preserve the art.

“Munch painted on cardboard and used pigment with very little oil in it to achieve a flat, matt surface,” explained the museum’s head of conservation, Kasper Koch. “This makes the painting particularly delicate. Based on the level of visible colour change we can accept over a 100-year period, we have calculated that this [painted] version can safely be displayed for two hours a day.”

Munch’s masterpiece

Munch’s masterpiece


Best Norwegian cruises
Best river cruises in Europe

Every hour the version of The Scream on show changes, sliding doors sealing off the resting works in gentle gloom to preserve them. Most visitors will come hoping to see the painting, but the museum avoids publicising the timings of when it will be displayed to avoid overcrowding, and shifts the schedule each day so visitors have no way of engineering which version they’ll view.

However, go with Viking Cruises and you can guarantee a level of privileged access not available through any other channel, because the line’s Behind Closed Doors at the Munch Museum shore excursion (£184pp) includes an expert-led tour of the exhibitions. We learnt that the museum’s comprehensive collection extends to an x-ray of Munch’s hand taken after he was shot by a lover, and how his most monumental works had to be eased into the building through an 85ft-high hole in the wall. There’s also a unique chance to go behind the scenes in the conservation studio, where 11 experts work to keep the collection of 1,100 paintings, 7,000 drawings and 18,000 lithographic prints in good condition.

The name of the excursion is a literal description, with Koch guiding us through a series of hefty steel portals that make up part of the museum’s state-of-the-art security system. They can’t be too careful — in 2004 The Scream and Madonna, another of Munch’s most famous works, were stolen from the museum’s previous home and lost for two years.

“Most of the staff have never been inside the conservation studio,” Koch said as we entered the large white room. And it’s easy to see why — priceless paintings are laid out on desks, unframed and unglazed. I held my breath as I craned over to get a detailed view of Vampire in the Forest, taking in the texture of the oil and the microscopic flakes that are starting to come away; they are being reattached by the conservators.

The Munch Museum

The museum opened my eyes to how diverse and prolific Munch was, but I’d already been given a sneak preview aboard the Viking Jupiter. With its Norwegian roots, Viking Cruises is an enthusiastic champion of the expressionist painter, and I’d had fun the previous day tracking down the handful of lithographs — some tender, some satirical — displayed on the sleek, 930-passenger ship.

The onboard art collection is extensive, with a strong showing from other Norwegian artists too — Ornulf Opdahl’s impressionistic canvases; Espen Tollefsen’s dreamlike photographs; even a piece by Queen Sonja. As we cruised into the fjords it was fascinating to watch the dialogue between the landscape and art inspired by it play out on the ship’s walls.

The cruise line has also been granted digital rights to the Munch Museum’s collection, and every evening at cocktail hour a selection of his work is shown on a giant screen in the Living Room bar, accompanied by musicians playing melodies from Norway’s other great Edvard: Grieg. When the Viking Venus — the Jupiter’s sister ship — sails this itinerary in September there will also be an art historian on board, giving lectures on Munch.

Scandinavian art may be less ubiquitous than its better-known continental counterparts, but as I discovered on my journey along the Danish and Norwegian coasts, it’s no less vivid and varied.

A beach on the Jutland peninsula in Denmark, en route to Skagen

A beach on the Jutland peninsula in Denmark, en route to Skagen


The idyllic seaside town of Skagen, our first port of call, sits at the northern tip of Denmark. It’s a place of wide skies and wild white-sand beaches, where the landscape appears to glow. In the late 19th century its remote beauty attracted a group of painters, disillusioned with the old-fashioned attitudes of the Royal Danish Academy in Copenhagen. Embracing the wider European trend for realism, they began to paint everyday scenes in the open air. The Skagens Museum is dedicated to their work, its walls lined with impressionistic beachscapes, intimate family scenes and portraits of fishermen.

It’s a short walk from there to the former home of Anna and Michael Ancher, two of the group’s most notable painters. This atmospheric spot is packed with period details, providing a window into the domestic lives behind the canvases. Doors are covered with hand- painted pictures of local birdlife, inspiring me to keep my eyes peeled for oystercatchers and lapwings.


Further north the ship docked in Stavanger, once a fishing port and now the main hub of Norway’s oil industry. We moored right in the centre of its coastline, a stroll from the white, clapboard houses of the old town and, on the other side of the harbour, the centre of its street-art scene.

Every narrow, cobbled lane revealed another intriguing piece; miniature buildings stencilled onto electricity boxes, giant tree rings wrapping the walls of a house, the typographic patterns of calligraffiti — it’s a veritable outdoor gallery. This is a result of the NuArt festival, held annually in the town since 2001. Providing commentary on topics as wide ranging as Brexit, surveillance society and climate change, these contemporary murals turn a gentle stroll around the downtown area into a thought-provoking exercise. This time, though, the existential angst is right out there in the full Stavanger sunshine.

Joanna Booth was a guest of Viking. Seven nights’ full board on the Viking Shores & Fjords cruise from Amsterdam to Bergen costs from £3,390pp, including flights, drinks with lunch and dinner, some excursions, wi-fi and crew tips, departing in May 2023 (viking.com)

Uniworld’s River Empress

Uniworld’s River Empress

Three more cruises for art lovers

Dutch masters
Get hands-on at a floating art workshop aboard Uniworld’s River Empress during a cruise through the Netherlands. Tuition from the professional portrait and landscape artist Larry Aarons will send you home with a charcoal portrait and a watercolour landscape by your own fair hand. You’ll find plenty of inspiration from the charming rural villages you sail through and in Amsterdam, a city with perhaps the most impressive set of art museums in the world.
Seven nights’ all-inclusive round trip from Amsterdam from £1,749pp, including flights or Eurostar, tips and some excursions, departing on July 16 (uniworld.com)

Poetry in motion
See artworks come to life on stage during the high-tech Arte show aboard the new Celebrity Beyond. The theatre’s 110ft curved LED screen and floor-projection technology showcase works by greats including Dalí, Monet, Van Gogh and Leonardo da Vinci, accompanied by dance and vocal performances. The onboard modern art collection is huge, with 4,500 works by 700 artists from 40 countries. Sail in the Mediterranean and you’ll have the chance to see Renaissance gems in Florence and Rome, and contemporary works in Barcelona and Marseilles.
Nine nights’ all-inclusive from Rome to Barcelona from £1,204pp, departing on August 18 (celebritycruises.com). Fly to Rome

Modern masterpiece
Sail anywhere on the Rotterdam, Holland America’s newest ship, and come back culturally enriched by the onboard contemporary art collection — 2,645 pieces, worth a whopping £3.2 million. Highlights range from the giant, 7.5-tonne steel sculpture Harps, to little gems like Betty Pepper’s paper creations, carved out of discarded books. Choose the Jewels of Scandinavia cruise and you’ll be able to continue your modern art odyssey on land. See works by Louise Bourgeois and David Hockney at the Louisiana Museum of Contemporary Art near Copenhagen, cutting-edge photography at Fotografiska in Stockholm, and large-scale installations from Olafur Eliasson and James Turrell at ARoS in Aarhus.
Twelve nights’ full board from £2,869pp, including drinks, two excursions, wi-fi and £350 flight credit, departing on October 2 (hollandamerica.com)

Sign up for our Times Travel newsletter and follow us on Instagram and Twitter