The Scream is the best known and most frequently reproduced of all Munch’s motifs. With its expressive colours, its flowing lines and striking overall effect, its appeal is universal.
Despite radical simplification, the landscape in the picture is recognisable as the Kristiania Fjord seen from Ekeberg, with a broad view over the fjord, the town and the hills beyond. In the background to the left, at the end of the path with the balustrade that cuts diagonally across the picture, we see two strolling figures, often regarded as two friends whom Munch mentions in notes relating to the picture. But the figure in the foreground is the first to capture the viewer’s attention. Its hands are held to its head and its mouth is wide open in a silent scream, which is amplified by the undulating movement running through the surrounding landscape. The figure is ambiguous and it is hard to say whether it is a man or a woman, young or old – or even if it is human at all.
As with many of Munch’s pictures, it is assumed that here as well his starting point was private feelings and experience. His diaries contain several remarks that seem to form a background to this depiction of existential angst, among them the following: “I was walking along the road with two friends – Then the sun went down – The sky suddenly turned to blood and I felt a great scream in nature –”.
The Scream was first exhibited at Munch’s solo exhibition in Berlin in 1893. It was a central element in “The Frieze of Life”, and has been the theme of probing analysis and many suggested interpretations. The painting also exists in a later version, which is in the possession of the Munch Museum. In addition Munch worked with the motif in drawings, pastels and prints.
The Scream (Norwegian: Skrik) is the popular name given to each of four versions of a composition, created as both paintings and pastels, by Norwegian Expressionist artist Edvard Munch between 1893 and 1910. The German title Munch gave these works is Der Schrei der Natur (The Scream of Nature). The works show a figure with an agonized expression against a landscape with a tumultuous orange sky. Arthur Lubow has described The Scream as "an icon of modern art, a Mona Lisa for our time."
Edvard Munch created the four versions in various media. The National Gallery in Oslo, Norway, holds one of two painted versions (1893, shown here). The Munch Museum holds the other painted version (1910, see gallery, below) and a pastel version from 1893. These three versions have not traveled for years, though the pastel version was on display in a temporary exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2015.
The fourth version (pastel, 1895) was sold for $119,922,600 at Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art auction on 2 May 2012 to financier Leon Black, the fourth highest nominal price paid for a painting at auction. The pastel was on display in the Museum of Modern Art in New York from October 2012 to April 2013.
Also in 1895, Munch created a lithograph stone of the image. Of the lithograph prints produced by Munch, several examples survive. Only approximately four dozen prints were made before the original stone was resurfaced by the printer in Munch's absence.
The Scream has been the target of several high-profile art thefts. In 1994, the version in the National Gallery was stolen. It was recovered several months later. In 2004, both The Scream and Madonna were stolen from the Munch Museum, and both were recovered two years later.
The original German title given by Munch to his work was Der Schrei der Natur ("The Scream of Nature"). The Norwegian title, Skrik is cognate with the English "shriek". Occasionally, the painting also has been called The Cry.
In his diary in an entry headed "Nice 22 January 1892", Munch wrote:
He later described his inspiration for the image:
Among theories advanced to account for the reddish sky in the background is the artist's memory of the effects of the powerful volcanic eruption of Krakatoa, which deeply tinted sunset skies red in parts of the Western hemisphere for months during 1883 and 1884, about a decade before Munch painted The Scream. This explanation has been disputed by scholars, who note that Munch was an expressive painter and was not primarily interested in literal renderings of what he had seen. Alternatively, it has been suggested that the proximity of both a slaughterhouse and a lunatic asylum to the site depicted in the painting may have offered some inspiration. The scene was identified as being the view from a road overlooking Oslo, the Oslofjord and Hovedøya, from the hill of Ekeberg. At the time of painting the work, Munch's manic depressive sister Laura Catherine was a patient at the asylum at the foot of Ekeberg.
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