Johan Throne Holst (1868-1946) bought the Freia Chocolade Fabrik in Oslo in 1892. At the time it had only seven employees. Holst turned Freia into Norway’s premier chocolate producer. He initiated modern social research and fronted the responsibility of industries and industrialists to promote art and science. Freia could boast of modern cafeterias, a private park on the grounds for the employees, the country’s largest allotment gardens for workers, Norway’s first company doctor and was the first factory in the country to reduce the work week to 48 hours. Architect Ole Sverre designed three new cafeterias on the Freia grounds in 1919.
Georg Dedichen, who was head of Freia’s laboratory and a friend of Edvard Munch since youth, started negotiations with the artist two years later regarding the decoration of the cafeterias. In November that year Edvard Munch delivered a proposal which included 12 pictures for the women’s cafeteria and six for the men’s. For a while the commission was jeopardized by a special chocolate and sugar tax levied in 1922, which weakened Freia financially. Fortunately, Munch was awarded the job and paid NOK 80,000 for 12 paintings. These were completed in time for Freia’s 25th anniversary as a listed company in 1923.
Munch selected motifs for the decoration inspired from the landscape in and around Åsgårdstrand. They share characteristics with the frieze he made for the Linde family in 1904 and his decorations for Max Reinhardt’s theatre in Berlin in 1906. In January 1923 all of the paintings were mounted in the women’s cafeteria. Along with new, novel birch wood furniture, the room was sensationally modern. What other factories had world-famous art on the walls of the workers’ cafeteria? Munch’s paintings were moved to the Freia Hall when it was built in 1934. The paintings are still in the employee’s cafeteria and still part of Architect Ole Sverre’s stylistically consistent hall. The Freia Frieze is one of the two large decoration works by Munch remaining in their original, intended spots. The other is in the University of Oslo Aula.