73.5 x 91 cm
National Gallery, Oslo, Norway
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.