If ever a painting summed up the year 2020.
Norwegian artist Edvard Munch’s artwork, ‘The Scream’, is famous the world over, probably in large part because we can all relate to the angst of wanting to put our head in our hands and wail.
It’s true meaning may have been somewhat misinterpreted over the years, and just this week another layer of intrigue was added.
Over to The Telegraph:
A conservation project at the National Museum of Norway has revealed that a line of what was thought to be graffiti on the canvas of the earliest version of the painting was actually written by the artist himself.
Infrared scanning has matched the tiny letters in “can only have been painted by a madman”, a phrase written in Norwegian that can just be glimpsed in the upper left corner of the Museum’s 1893 canvas, with surviving samples of Munch’s handwriting.
The discovery reinforces our understanding of the fraught critical atmosphere that greeted the unveiling of The Scream in Oslo in 1895.
Munch created four different variants of ‘The Scream’, and the one on display in the National Museum of Norway is the earliest of the four.
It had previously been believed that the graffiti was written by an art critic, with the painting’s unveiling late in the 19th century proving rather contentious.
A lecture had been given at the time which condemned Munch as a “most insane man”, with the artist said to have been the room and “standing pale against the wall” as the criticism was levelled.
Munch’s family suffered from a history of mental illness, and the person delivering the lecture was a medical student. It’s now believed that Munch (pictured below) added the wording himself, as a form of satirical commentary.
The artwork already boasts a rather controversial history:
In the late 1930s, Munch’s work was declared “degenerate” by the Nazis, and it was only through the efforts of a shipping magnate named Thomas Olsen, a friend and patron of Munch, that the majority of his works weren’t destroyed…
Debates over its meaning continue to this day. The modern consensus, summed up by art critic Philip Hook, in a catalogue accompanying the 2012 sale of one version of the painting, is that it is “the ultimate embodiment of fear, angst and alienation.”
But some critics, uneasy with such a broad and impersonal interpretation, have linked the emotion in the painting to Munch’s own biography. The location of the scene the painting depicts, on a hill overlooking Oslo, is close to a mental asylum where his sister Laura Catherine, who suffered from severe depression, was confined at the time, and some have suggested the agonised figure represents Munch’s response to her plight.
Some of the artworld’s most audacious heists involve ‘The Scream’, with one variant stolen in 1994 from the National Museum of Norway, and another in 2004, when masked gunmen entered the Munch Museum in Oslo.
Both have since been recovered.
All in all, a pretty wild ride thus far.
You can read more on the artwork, and the artist, here.
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