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The Scream of Edvard Munch
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Matt Groening's Scream travesty

The Scream was made by the Norwegian painter and printmaker Edvard Much (1863-1944). For years he had suffered from anxiety, excessive drinking, hallucinations and feelings of persecution.

"Illness, insanity, and death were the black angels that kept watch over my cradle and accompanied me all my life," he said.

Munch's depictions of intense anguish greatly influenced development of German expressionism in the early 1900s. But he himself entered the clinic of Dr. Daniel Jacobson in 1908, and his treatment included some "electrification", that is, sending electric currents through the brain, which was fashionable for mind conditions at the time. He was stabilised after that.

The Scream (1893, further down) is his best-known painting of existential anguish. He created many versions of it. He appears to have drawn inspiration for it from one of the results of a volcano eruption far away. He writes on a diary page headed Nice 22.01.1892:

I was walking along a path with two friends - the sun was setting - suddenly the sky turned blood red - I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence - there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city - my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety - and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.
The Norwegian painter and lithograper Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Self-Portrait

The sky in the background of the painting may reflect the effects of the volcanic eruption of Krakatoa in 1883. The ash ejected from the volcano left the sky tinted red in most of Europe and Asia for several months and caused spectacular twilights with a magnificent, blood-red sky. Munch never forgot that sky, and why should he?

Munch explicitly mentioned that 1884 was the year of the original inspirations for three of the paintings in The Frieze of Life, where the most famous version of the Scream appears. The end result was an agonized figure against a blood red skyline. And who is screaming? Is it the depicted person, or is it nature? Or both? And is it Munch himself? Or a memory of a Peruvian mummy Munch had seen exhibited? It could be "a bit of this, a bit of that, and none can tell full well". In other words, the matter is open to interpretations.

The scene of the Scream includes a road overlooking Oslo, the Oslofjord and Hovedøya, on the slopes of a 140 m high hill called the Ekeberg. From this spot, Munch's direction of view in the drawing was toward the southwest, which is where the Krakatoa twilights appeared in the winter of 1883-1884.


More Scream Versions

The Famous Scream Painting

Oslo Scream - Click on picture to see Munch's large painting.

The scene of the Scream includes a road overlooking Oslo, the Oslofjord and Hovedøya, on the slopes of a 140 m high hill called the Ekeberg.

Scream Lithography

Scream lithography."

Scream Today

Scream doll. "Squeeze the Screaming Scream Doll's belly and it will let out a little shriek. Perfect desktop item for the art lover."

The Scream has been used in advertising, in cartoons, in anime, and has fascinated film and television. Ghostface, the psychotic murderer in a series of horror movies, wears a Halloween mask inspired by the central figure in the painting. Reproductions of this mask are now very popular and common masks in the real world.


Scream-aligned Anecdotes

This Scream is by Andy Warhol. Click on it to see the large Scream by Munch from 1893.

Ongoing Liars

A minister wound up the services one morning by saying, "Next Sunday I'm going to preach on the subject of liars. And in this connection, as a preparation, I should like you all to read the 17th chapter of Mark."

On the following Sunday, the preacher rose to begin, saying, "Now then, all of you who have done as I asked and read the 17th Chapter of Mark, please raise your hands."

Nearly every hand in the congregation went up. Then said the preacher, "You're the misled people I want to talk to. There's no 17th Chapter of Mark."

No teeth!

An evangelist was exhorting his hearers to flee from the wrath to come. "I warn you," he thundered, "that there will be weeping, and wailing and gnashing of teeth!"

At this moment an old woman in the gallery stood up. "Sir," she shouted, "I have no teeth."

"Madam," returned the evangelist, "teeth will be provided."

A reasonable shave?

King Philip of Spain was in such a deplorable state of despondency from ill-health, that he refused to be shaved. Now the Queen ordered a concert in a room adjoining the king's chamber, and the famous singer Farinelli sang one of his best airs. It so overcame the king that he desired the singer to be brought into his presence. Not only that, he also promised to grant him any reasonable request he might make. The performer then begged of the king to allow himself to be shaved. The king agreed.

the scream by munch, detail
Singing an Air, or alternatively, Well Shaved King of Spain -
[Detail from Edvard Munch's The Scream (Lithography)]

The Scream of Edvard Munch, Literature  

Prideaux, Sue. Edvard Munch: Behind the Scream. London: Yale University Press, 2005. ⍽▢⍽ The Scream: an iconic expression of anxiety and a reflection of his inner torment. Prideaux, part Norwegian, forms an intellectual and psychological portrait of the Norwegian artist, and includes excerpts from Munch's depressing diaries. Munch wrote, "Illness, insanity and death were the black angels that hovered over my cradle," and the seat of his despair was Oslo (Kristiania then). Munch got much success abroad, where the study of mental disorders was coming into vogue. - In 1908 his doctor in Copenhaged diagnosed merely alcoholism, but . . . He turned his thoughts into drawings, into his art. His paintings thus are looked on as a biography by some. Although Munch rose from being a poor artist into being a very rich man, he nonetheless always lived simply and fretted that the tax man was ruining him.

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