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The Scream by Edvard Munch
"The Scream" was an 1893 painting that became an iconic symbol for a stressful life in twentieth and twenty-first century pop culture. Did the Norwegian Expressionist painter Edvard Munch intend for "The Scream" to have such mass appeal?
In his diary of 1892 the artist said he was "walking along a path with two friends - the sun was setting - suddenly the sky turned blood red... I stood there trembling with anxiety - I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature."
The image of "The Scream" depicts a sexless, agonized figure with its hands on its head, the shriek echoing through the sky (as expressed by Munch's curvy lines). "The Scream" has several versions: two paintings, two pastels and one lithograph.
Munch was introduced to printmaking in 1894 - which allowed the artist to change and rework the images by changing color or line. In 1985 he added a version of "The Scream" as a lithograph, meant for reproduction. This was one way the artist could make a steady income from the work. Perhaps Munch was aware of the public’s curiosity and future mega interest in his image’s horrifying shriek (skrik in Norwegian).
Many theories have been offered to explain what influenced Munch and what his motives may have been. The figure with its hands by its head can also be seen in Paul Gauguin’s painting, "Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?" (1897), in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
The crouched figure can be seen as the old woman (representing the end of life) on the left hand side of the painting. Gauguin and Munch were friends and perhaps they saw this same image as a mummy at the 1889 Exposition in Paris or a museum in Florence and decided independently to use it as a theme in their paintings.
Munch had much sadness in his youth as his mother died of tuberculosis when he was five years old, his sister Sophie succumbed when he was fourteen, and at age twenty-five his father died. Shortly thereafter his sister Laura was declared a manic depressive and was committed to a mental hospital at the foot of Ekeberg Hill. This view from the road overlooking Oslo, the Oslofjord and Hovedøya is where experts have determined to be the location of "The Scream."
Adding to the international notoriety of Munch's paintings has been some high profile art thefts. On the opening day of the Winter Olympics in Littlehammer in 1994, one version of "The Scream" was stolen from the National Gallery. The painting was later recovered the same year.
In 2004 "The Scream" and "Madonna" were stolen at gunpoint from the Munch Museum in Oslo. Both paintings were subsequently found in 2006, with minimal damage.
It has been said that the human psyche will display an interest in others who have similar life experiences. It seems fair to say that the theme of isolation, loneliness and depression speaks volumes for the reason for the popularity of "The Scream," uniting all ages and socio-cultural backgrounds.
You can own an art print of Edvard Munch's "The Scream."
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