Edvard Munch’s oil-tempera painting “The Scream” is a groundbreaking creation of the expressionist movement. The painting exudes an overwhelming sense of fear and anxiety within a surreal nightmarish setting. While a viewer would almost always attach negative emotions to the painting, it surprisingly is not all about fear and anxiety.
In this article, we take a closer look at “The Scream” and list 16 interesting facts about the painting-
1. Munch’s Anxiety Attack:
Munch’s painting “The Scream” is based on a poignant psychological experience. He recalled this event through a poem on one of his paintings. The poem has been translated as follows:
The feelings that Munch describes in this excerpt are very close to ones that a person experiences during an anxiety attack. This experience left an indelible mark on Munch’s mind that he expressed through “The Scream”.
2. Despair Before The Scream
After this episode, Munch was obsessed with the experience for about two years. During this time the final picture of “The Scream” was just starting to cultivate in his head.
In 1892, Munch painted an oil on canvas work titled “Despair”. This painting features a man dressed in a black coat and top hat looking toward the distant landscapes.
As he reflects in solitude we also notice two men who are perhaps the “two friends” Munch went out with. The painting shows a moment of isolation, reflection, and silence before the storm sets in.
“Despair” may thus be understood as a prequel to “The Scream” where Munch is just about to have an anxiety attack.
3. There are five versions of “The Scream”
Munch created five versions of The Scream in different mediums. The first version was an oil on canvas painted in 1893. In the same year, he also created a pastel version. The final version of “The Scream” is a stone lithograph used to create prints.
While two of these are paintings, the other two use a pastel medium on canvas. One of these pastel works is located at the Munch Museum in Olso. The other pastel is in a private collection.
Researchers are of the opinion that the pastel version was a preliminary study for the final painting. In 2012 “The Scream” in pastel was auctioned for was auctioned at Sotheby’s London for £74 million.
Two years later, he made a lithograph based on this work, with the title ‘The Scream’ printed in German below. The printed versions of the artwork were central to establishing his international reputation as an artist.
4. It was supposed to have a different title
The Norwegian title for the painting is “Skrik” which directly translates to “Shriek” and not “Scream”. However, earlier Munch decided to name it Der Schrei der Natur in German which means The Scream of Nature.
5. Who is screaming?
When we look at the painting it seems as if the figure in the foreground is screaming. However we get a more accurate picture of “The Scream” when we consider its original name, that is, “The Scream of Nature”.
Munch recounted the event that led him to paint “The Scream” in a poem. In this poem, he clearly mentions that he “sensed an endless scream passing through nature.”
Thus, it is the man’s surroundings that are screaming, while he stands frightened covering his ears to muffle the scream.
6. It’s part of a 22-painting series
During the 1890s, Edvard Munch was deeply involved in the artistic themes of love, despair, pain, and anxiety. Between 1890 to 1910 Munch made 22 paintings all of which had several versions in prints and lithographs.
These 22 paintings explored strong psychological experiences such as love, illness, death, and anxiety. “The Scream” was also part of this series titled the “The Frieze of Life”.
Some of the most famous paintings in this series are Angst, Death in the Sickroom, Melancholy, Madonna, and Vampire.
7. It has been stolen twice!
A version of “The Scream” was first stolen from the National Gallery of Oslo in 1994. The thieves had broken in through a window and left with the painting without being noticed. Three months later the painting was spotted and was returned to the museum. The guilty were never found.
The Munch Museum of Oslo is a sanctuary for Edvard Munch’s paintings. In 2004 the 1910 version of “The Scream” and another painting by Munch titled “Madonna” were stolen.
The robbers left a cheeky note saying:
“Thanks for the poor security”
About two years later in 2006, six individuals were convicted for the alleged robbery. Fortunately, both the paintings were returned with no major damage.
8. Candy as ransom?
A famous candy brand – Mars Inc. decided to use the theft of the “The Scream” to promote their M&M chocolates. In 2006 they released an advertisement with an M&M mascot playing hopscotch in the background of the painting.
The tagline said, “dark just got fun”. They also offered a reward of 2 million M&Ms for the return of the painting. By weight that would be 2.2 tons of candy!
To everyone’s surprise, the painting was found by the Norwegian police weeks after the advertisement. One of the prisoners even sent out a plea for the 2 million candies.
However, no one received the candies. Mars Inc. donated $26,000 USD to the Munch Museum which was equivalent to the price of 2.2 tons of their candy.
9. The Scream is now iconic
The figure in the foreground of the painting has become so recognizable by the world that it is now a popular monogram. The shapes in the painting are easily replicable and leave an imprint on anyone who sees it.
Due to these properties of “The Scream” it has been largely commercialized and has been an inspiration for the art world. The iconic face with a dropped jaw and hand over its ears has even become an emoji used in text messages.
The symbol is often used to depict anxiety or fear, which are the central themes of the original painting.
10. Inspired by a Peruvian Mummy
As an artist, Munch often visited Paris and its museums for inspiration. Art critics have found an uncanny resemblance between a Peruvian mummy displayed at the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro in Paris and Munch’s “The Scream”. Both the subject in the painting and the mummy portray a genderless human head with an open mouth and its hands cupped over its ears.
11. The Scream continues to inspire the pop culture
Since the late 20th century, “The Scream” has inspired various artists and film directors. The masterpiece first inspired Andy Warhol to create a pop art out of the painting which further popularized the original work.
Next, the painting greatly influenced the writers of the British television show “Doctor Who”. Most recently the painting made a very direct appearance in a movie titled “Scream” by Wes Craven, where the villain wears a mask extremely similar to the subject of the painting.
12. The famous Lithograph version
Munch realized that “The Scream” became an instant sensation among the art connoisseurs of the early 20th century. Munch made a stone lithograph of the original painting so that he could easily sell them.
He made several black and white prints of the painting and sold them to art collectors which became very popular. The artist even colored a few of these prints by hand before selling them. Today these prints are expensive collectibles.
13. One of the most expensive paintings in the world
There are four versions of The Scream in existence. While two of these are paintings, the other two use pastel on cardboard medium. The pastel version is also the only one to ever be auctioned and is presently part of a private collection.
In 2012 the pastel version of “The Scream” was auctioned at Sotheby’s London for a sum of nearly $ 119.9 million USD. The buyer is an art collector by the name of Leon David Black.
14. Psychology behind “The Scream”
Margaret Livingstone is a neurobiologist who discovered that monkeys tend to attend to exaggerated facial expressions for longer periods of time and more readily.
Therefore, according to her findings, the popularity of “The Scream” may be related to human neurobiology. The human brain is designed to attend more strongly to loud emotional expressions just like the ones displayed in “The Scream”.
15. It’s Set at a suicide Spot
Sue Prideaux, an art scholar reveals that “The Scream” was created during a time when Munch was experiencing various difficulties in his personal life.
He was financially unstable, had just gotten out of a relationship, and also looking after his sister who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. According to the scholar, the background of the painting closely resembles a suicide spot in Norway.
15. Where is “The Scream” now?
Out of the four verisions of “The Scream” three are in Museums while one is in a private collection.
The 1893 pastel version and 1910 oil-tempera version are located in the Munch Museum, Oslo. The 1893 painting is in the National Gallery, also in Oslo, Norway.
16. Dimensions of “the Scream”
All versions of “The Scream” have the same dimensions. These paintings are 91 cm (36 in) high and 73.5 cm (28.9 in) wide.
Edvard Munch was consumed by the concept of mortality and related themes for almost all of his career. The expressionist skilfully portrayed the most tragic experiences of life through his work. An analysis of all his work is both emotionally and intellectually exhausting. “The Scream” is only one of many such works by Munch that makes us question the importance of our existence.
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