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Edvard Munch - The Scream

by Alexandra Tuschka

No other painting by Munch has achieved such fame as "The Scream". Although critics regard the work as representative of the basic mood of modernism, the motif originates from a highly personal experience: Munch, who was mentally ill, processed a panic attack here in 1892. He himself describes the experience vividly in his diary: "One evening I went for a walk with two friends. (...) The sun was setting and the clouds were turning blood red. I felt a cry echoing through nature. I had the feeling that I could really hear this scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds like real blood. It was the colors that screamed." The landscape though greatly simplified can be identified as the Kristiania Ford as seen from Ekeberg.

Munch succeeds vividly in rendering the impression of his subjective experience. The shadowy figure in the foreground, whose head resembles a skull, has his hands pressed to his ears. The depiction hardly reveals any information about age or gender - it seems almost archetypal. The mouth is wide open - does the scream from nature also pass over to humans?

From above, the red-orange sky presses down, the river stretches through the picture's middle ground like a ravine. The steep diagonal footbridge coming into the picture shortens drastically. It draws the eye into the depths to two other figures who seem unconcerned by the spectacle. The isolation of the protagonist is impressively comprehensible.

Just one year after it was painted, the work was shown in Berlin at Munch's first solo exhibition. Munch continued to use the motif on canvases and in studies. On one version is written in pencil: Could only be painted by a madman.

Edvard Munch - The Scream

Tempera and pastels on cardboard, 1893, 91 x 73.5 cm, Norwegian National Gallery in Oslo


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