The Scream

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The Scream
(Norwegian: Skrik)
Edvard Munch, 1893
Oil, tempera, and pastel on cardboard
91 cm × 73.5 cm (36 in × 29 in)
National Gallery, Oslo

The Scream (Norwegian: Skrik; created 1893-1910[1]) is the title of expressionist paintings and prints in a series by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, depicting an agonised figure against a blood red sky. The landscape in the background is Oslofjord, viewed from the hill of Ekeberg, in Oslo (then Kristiania), Norway.

Edvard Munch created several versions of The Scream in various media. The Munch Museum holds one of two painted versions (1910, see gallery) and one pastel. The National Gallery of Norway holds the other painted version (1893, shown to right). A fourth version, in pastel, is owned by Norwegian billionaire Petter Olsen. Munch also created a lithograph (1895, see gallery) of the image.[2]

The Scream has been the target of several high-profile art thefts. In 1994, the version in the National Gallery was stolen. It was recovered several months later. In 2004, The Scream and Madonna were stolen from the Munch Museum. Both paintings were recovered in 2006. They had sustained some damage and went back on display in May 2008, after undergoing restoration.[1]


[edit] Sources of inspiration

The original German title given to the work by Munch was Der Schrei der Natur (The Scream of Nature). The Norwegian word skrik is usually translated as scream, but is cognate with the English shriek. Occasionally, the painting has been called The Cry.

In a page in his diary headed Nice 22.01.1892, Munch described his inspiration for the image thus:

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.

One theory advanced to account for the reddish sky in the background is that Munch had observed a powerful volcanic eruption of Krakatoa in 1883: the ash that was ejected from the volcano left the sky tinted red in much of eastern United States and most of Europe and Asia from the end of November 1883 to mid February 1884.[3] This explanation has been disputed by scholars who note that Munch was an expressive, rather than descriptive painter, and was therefore not primarily responsive to literal rendering. Alternatively, it has been suggested that the proximity to the site of the painting of both a slaughterhouse and a madhouse may have offered inspiration.[4]

The person in the foreground may be the artist himself, not screaming but protecting himself or itself from the scream of Nature. Thus, the position in which he portrays himself could be considered a reflex reaction typical of anyone struggling to keep out distressing noise, whether actual or imagined.

The scene was identified as being the view from a road overlooking Oslo, the Oslofjord and Hovedøya, from the hill of Ekeberg. At the time of painting the work, Munch's manic depressive sister Laura Catherine was interned in the mental hospital at the foot of Ekeberg.

In 1978, the Munch scholar Robert Rosenblum suggested that the strange, sexless creature in the foreground of the painting was probably inspired by a Peruvian mummy, which Munch could have seen at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. This mummy, which was crouching in a fetal position with its hands alongside its face, also struck the imagination of Munch's friend Paul Gauguin: it stood model for the central figure in his painting Human misery (Grape harvest at Arles) and for the old woman at the left in his painting Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?. More recently, an Italian anthropologist speculated that Munch might have seen a mummy in Florence's Museum of Natural History which bears an even more striking resemblance to the painting.[5]

[edit] Thefts

Thieves taking paintings from the Munch Museum in Oslo on August 22, 2004. Photo taken by unidentified bystander.

On February 12, 1994, the same day as the opening of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, four men broke into the National Gallery and stole its version of Scream, leaving a note reading "Thanks for the poor security".[6] The painting had been moved down to a second-storey[7] display as part of the Olympic festivities, and the presence of international media covering the games made the theft a sensation.[8] An early claim of responsibility by a Norwegian anti-abortion group turned out to be false. After the gallery refused a ransom demand of USD $1 million in March 1994, Norwegian police set up a sting operation with assistance from the British Police (SO10) and the Getty Museum, and the painting was recovered undamaged on May 7, 1994.[9] In January 1996, four men were convicted in connection with the theft, including Pål Enger, who in 1988 had been convicted of stealing Munch's Vampire.[10] However, they were released on appeal on legal grounds: the British agents involved in the sting operation had entered Norway under false identities.[11]

Another version of The Scream was stolen in 2004. On August 22, during daylight hours, masked gunmen entered the Munch Museum in Oslo and stole two paintings: Scream and Munch's Madonna.[12] Remarkably, a bystander photographed the robbers as they escaped with the artwork to their car (shown at right). On April 8, 2005, Norwegian police arrested a suspect in connection with the theft, but the paintings remained missing and it was rumored that they had been burned by the thieves to destroy evidence.[13][14] On June 1, 2005, with four suspects already in custody in connection with the crime, the City Government of Oslo offered a reward of 2 million Norwegian kroner (roughly USD 313,500 and 231,200) for information that could help locate the paintings.[15] Though the paintings remained at large, six men went on trial in early 2006, variously charged with either assisting to plan or execute the robbery. Three of the men were convicted and sentenced to between four and eight years in prison in May 2006, and two of the convicted, Bjørn Hoen and Petter Tharaldsen, were also ordered to pay compensation of 750 million kroner (roughly USD 117.6 million or € 86.7 million) to the City of Oslo.[16] The Munch Museum itself was closed for 10 months for a $6 million security overhaul.[citation needed]

On 31 August 2006, Norwegian police announced that a police operation had recovered both Scream and Madonna, but did not reveal detailed circumstances of the recovery. The paintings were said to be in a better-than-expected condition. "We are 100 percent certain they are the originals," police chief Iver Stensrud told a news conference. "The damage was much less than feared."[17][18] Munch Museum director Ingebjørg Ydstie confirmed the condition of the paintings, saying it was much better than expected and that the damage could be repaired.[19] The Scream had moisture damage on the lower left corner, while Madonna suffered several tears on the right side of the painting as well as two holes in Madonna's arm.[20] Before repairs and restoration began, the paintings were put on public display by the Munch Museum beginning 27 September 2006. During the five-day exhibition, 5500 people viewed the damaged paintings. The conserved works went back on display on May 23, 2008, when the exhibition "Scream and Madonna--Revisited" at the Munch Museum in Oslo displayed the paintings together.[21] Some damage to "The Scream" may prove impossible to repair, but the overall integrity of the work has not been compromised.[2][22]

[edit] Role in popular culture

In the late twentieth century, The Scream acquired iconic status in popular culture. It was used on the cover of some editions of Arthur Janov's book The Primal Scream. [23] In 1983–1984, pop artist Andy Warhol made a series of silk prints of works by Munch, including Scream. The idea was to desacralize the painting by making it into a mass-reproducible object, though Munch had already begun that process himself, by making a lithograph of the work for reproduction. Furthermore, characteristic of post-modern art is Erró's ironic and irreverent treatment of Munch's masterpiece in his acrylic paintings The Second Scream (1967) and Ding Dong (1979).[24]

As one of very few works of modern art that are instantly recognizable to a broad audience, Scream has been used in advertising, in cartoons such as The Simpsons and has likewise fascinated film and television. Ghostface, the psychotic murderer in Wes Craven's Scream 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. The work's reproduction on all kinds of items, from t-shirts to coffee mugs, bears witness to its iconic status as well as to its complete desacralization in the eyes of today's public. In that respect, it is comparable to other iconic works of art, such as Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and American Gothic.

The work has also been used in political humor and advertisement. During Bush senior's administration a popular poster showed the painting with the caption "President Quayle." Bumper Stickers were sold in 2004 with the image paired with the caption of "Four More Years?" In August 2006, Masterfoods USA, the maker of M&M's candies, began using Scream in ads for its dark chocolate variety of candies and offered a reward of two million of the candies for the painting's return. Shortly after the promotion was announced, the painting was recovered. Masterfoods has announced its intention to honor the reward once the recovered painting is authenticated.[25]

[edit] Gallery

[edit] Notes and references

  1. ^ a b "The Scream returns, damaged but younger". 2008-05-21.
  2. ^ a b "About the conservation of The Scream and Madonna". Munch Museum. Retrieved on 2007-12-22. 
  3. ^ Olson, Donald W.; Russell L. Doescher and Marilynn S. Olson (May 2004). "The Blood-Red Sky of the Scream". APS News (American Physical Society) 13 (5). Retrieved on 2007-12-22. 
  4. ^ Existential Superstar: Another look at Edvard Munch's The Scream [1] Slate (2005-11-22). Retrieved on 10 November 2008.
  5. ^ "Italian Mummy Source of 'Scream'?". Discovery Channel. September 7, 2004. Retrieved on 2006-12-12.  (waybacked mirror)
  6. ^ "4 Norwegians Guilty In Theft of 'The Scream'". AP. 1996-01-18. Retrieved on 2006-08-31. 
  7. ^ Dolnick, Edward (June 2005). The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780060531171. 
  8. ^ "On this day: Art thieves snatch Scream". BBC News Online. 1994-02-12. Retrieved on 2006-08-31. 
  9. ^ Dolnick, Edward (June 2005). The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece. HarperCollins. 
  10. ^ "Master plan". Guardian Unlimited. 2005-06-13.,,1505351,00.html. Retrieved on 2007-12-21. 
  11. ^ Matthew Hart, The Irish Game: A True Story of Crime and Art, Viking Canada, 2004, p. 184
  12. ^ "Scream stolen from Norway museum". BBC News. 2004-08-22. Retrieved on 2006-09-03. 
  13. ^ "Oslo police arrest Scream suspect". BBC News. 2005-04-08. Retrieved on 2007-12-22. 
  14. ^ "Famous Munch paintings destroyed?". Norway Post. 2005-04-28. Retrieved on 2007-12-22. 
  15. ^ "Reward offered for Scream return". BBC News. 2005-06-01. Retrieved on 2007-12-22. 
  16. ^ "Three guilty of The Scream theft". BBC News. 2006-05-02. Retrieved on 2007-12-22. 
  17. ^ "Munch paintings recovered". Aftenposten. 2006-08-31. Retrieved on 2007-12-22. 
  18. ^ "Stolen Munch paintings found safe". BBC News. 2006-08-31. Retrieved on 2007-12-22. 
  19. ^ "Munch paintings 'can be repaired'". BBC News. 2006-09-01. Retrieved on 2007-12-22. 
  20. ^ "Museum to exhibit damaged Munch paintings". Aftenposten. 2006-10-12. Retrieved on 2007-12-22. 
  21. ^ Munch Museum
  22. ^ "'The Scream' to go back on display after 2004 heist". AFP. 2008-03-03. 
  23. ^ Janov, Arthur. (1977). The Primal Scream. New York: Abacus. ISBN 0-349-11834-5. 
  24. ^ "Scream on the Surface". Munch-Museet. Retrieved on May 29 2005. 
  25. ^ Masterfoods USA (2006-08-31). M&M's(R) Promises to Honor Two Million Dark Chocolate M&M's(R) Reward In Celebration of the Return of Munch Masterpiece 'The Scream'. Press release. Retrieved on 2006-08-31. 

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