The Scream by Edvard Munch
Episode #4 of the course “Most famous paintings of all time”
Type: oil, tempera, pastel and crayon on cardboard
Dimensions: 91 cm × 73.5 cm (36 in × 28.9 in)
Location: National Gallery, Oslo, Norway
One of the most striking images of modern art, The Scream is four paintings by Edvard Munch, all entitled The Scream of Nature. Completed in 1893 and 1894, the paintings have been the victims of several art thefts. Opinions vary about whether the image is impressionist, which depicts what the artist sees, or expressionist. Expressionist art attempts to portray internal reality. Munch claimed he was inspired to paint the scene after “hearing” a scream from nature while watching a sunset; critics argue that Munch’s art shows an expression of emotion rather than a realistic image.
The focus of The Scream is the face of a sexless figure turned to the viewer, with a wide mouth and hands placed on its cheeks. Behind the black-clothed figure, an orange and red sky hangs over the landscape. In the background, two additional figures stand facing the sunset. They seem to be on a bridge or boardwalk overlooking a cliff. Munch’s long, thick brushstrokes create a swirling, high-energy movement and evoke viewer anxiety. Scholars think the face of the screaming figure may have been inspired by a Peruvian mummy, which Munch saw at an exhibition in Paris a few years before.
Many art critics agree that The Scream represents a turning point in modern art. The paintings specifically depict the psychological disconnect people feel from one another, and from nature, in modern life. Every technique that Munch uses brings the viewer’s focus back to the pained expression of the foreground character. As a symbol of 20th century life, The Scream is also used to describe highly personal pain, such as mental illness. Interestingly, at the time Munch was inspired to paint this masterpiece, his sister was at an asylum undergoing psychiatric treatment for bipolar disorder.
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