Edvard Munch’s The Scream is one of the most celebrated paintings of all time. Described as an “icon” of contemporary art and a modern Mona Lisa; it represents a universal deep-seated anxiety.
The Scream is the popular name for this masterpiece of Symbolism art. Known in Norwegian as “Skrik” and German as “Der Schrei der Natur”, this oil painting goes by many names. Whatever its title, few fail to recognize the iconic agonized face against the vivid, swirling background.
Completed in 1893, the painting is renowned for capturing the universality and anxiety of the human condition. Explaining the pained face, the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889 (attended by Munch) displayed a newly discovered Peruvian Mummy. The Mummy was found in a fetal position, with its hands grasping the sides of its head; the likeness is certainly uncanny.
In a diary entry of 22 January 1892, the Norwegian painter spoke of how he walked at sunset and saw the clouds turning “blood red”. Munch later described an “infinite scream passing through nature” and the indefinable urge to capture the moment in paint. Of course, the resultant work became The Scream.
Although the specific site of the picture is unknown, academics believe it shows a fjord overlooking Oslo. The explanations for the "blood red" sky have also been investigated further. Suggestions are that it was inspired by the volcanic eruption of Krakatoa with its nacreous clouds or even a nearby abattoir.
There is conjecture conjecture that it was associated with his sister’s stay at a lunatic asylum, where she suffered from manic depression.
Munch himself coped with mental illness, family deaths and their rigidly religious father. This resulted in severe episodes of depression and alcoholism. These experiences all influenced Edvard Munch paintings and the emotions expressed within them. The Scream possibly reflects “depersonalization disorder” where a sense of flux (both of the world and your own sense of self) is experienced.
The long, strained brushstrokes of The Scream were a defining feature of the artist’s work.
Edvard Munch’s Madonna, was painted in 1894, the year after the Scream. This painting has noticeable similarities.
Edvard Munch’s The Kiss (1897) is another particularly notable example of the technique
From 1888 Munch experimented with this romantic subject matter.
The faces in The Kiss merge into one form which Munch intended as a symbolic representation of wholeness. There are however parallels between these flowing, faceless forms and the existential horror displayed in The Scream.
Edvard Munch paintings later inspired the expressionist movement. Originating at the start of the twentieth century, the expressionists aimed to present the world in a purely subjective manner. Championed by artists such as Franz Marc, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Der Blaue Reiter group, the expressionist artists took Munch’s emotive strength and applied it to the horrors of post-war Europe.
Within this movement, emotions and impressions were paramount, meaning distortions in color and form were common. These artists celebrated Edvard Munch’s The Scream as the zenith of subjectivity over physical reality.
Intriguingly, Munch produced two versions of The Scream in oil paints. He also created two pastel paintings and a lithograph. One of the pastel versions sold for a remarkable $120 million in 2012 at Sotheby's London, demonstrating the artist's continued appeal.
Today, The Scream Edvard Munch original versions hang in the National Gallery (part of the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design) and the Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway.
Munch's early years were blighted by family ill health and tragedy. His mother died when he just 5 years old and some 9 years later his sister died. Both had tuberculosis. Munch's father and brother also died when he was young and another sister suffered mental ill health. There can be no doubt that surrounded by death and sickness during those years had a profound effect on his art.
The Sick Child 1907 is a 4th version of the painting which can be seen at The Tate Museum in London, the original version of The Sick Child 1885, is held by the National Gallery in Oslo. Both paintings reflect on the death of his sister Sophie who died in 1877.
Death in the Sick Room is another painting held in Oslo at the National Museum. In this painting, Sophie's bed is surrounded by Munch and his immediate family, some of whom had already passed. It a painting of extreme sadness expressing the pain of grief and loss.
The Munch Love and Pain oil paintings also now known as Vampire, was completed in six different versions. The title "Vampire" is attributed to the art critic Stanislaw Przybyszewski who was a friend of Munch. Munch however, always insisted that the painting was simply no more than a man being kissed on the neck by a flame-haired woman.
The original German title of the The Scream is The Scream of Nature and in Norwegian, Shriek. The distorted and agonized face of The Scream has become of the most haunting painting in history. There are four original versions, two of which are oil paintings, both of which were stolen but later recovered.
In 2012 a pastel version on board was sold at a London Auction for approaching $120m.
The Scream oil painting is universally recognized as a cult art masterpiece and the most famous symbolist painting of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch.
Another important painting is Madonna by Edvard Munch which was initially entitled Woman Making Love, portraying the Virgin Mary. Bizarrely, the painting was originally framed and decorated with sperm cells and a fetus but it now has a more conventional appearance and is on display at the National Museum in Oslo.
Replica paintings of both the Scream and the Madonna are sought after art reproductions on canvas.
Munch's The Kiss 1897 forms part of The Frieze of Life series of paintings which were exhibited at the 1902 Berlin Secession and show the emerging love of a man and woman whose bodies meld into a single form.
The Munch oil painting, Dance of Life 1899 was also part of the Frieze of Life. This is a complex symbolic painting perhaps alluding to jealousy.
The Sun 1909 by Edward Munch is a very powerful painting which was used by the University of Kristiana to celebrate its centenary anniversary.
Munch was not a trained artist but a visit to Paris during late 1889 brought him into contact with the post-impressionist artists Toulouse-Lautrec and Paul Gauguin and whilst for a period he followed the loose brushstrokes of that movement he later discovered his own style.
Munch exhibited with the Union of Berlin Artists in 1892 and his paintings attracted a certain degree of controversy due to their violent and overt sexual nature.
After a spell in Paris he finally returned to Norway where he lived a fairly reclusive existence. During 1908 Munch suffered a mental breakdown which had been exacerbated by alcohol. Munch admitted himself to a Clinic where he received therapy. When his health improved his subsequent paintings tended to display more color and generally reflect a brighter mood.
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