The Scream

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The Scream
Norwegian: Skrik,
German: Der Schrei der Natur
Edvard Munch, 1893, The Scream, oil, tempera and pastel on cardboard, 91 x 73 cm, National Gallery of Norway.jpg
Artist Edvard Munch
Type Oil, tempera, pastel and crayon on cardboard
Dimensions91 cm× 73.5 cm(36 in× 28.9 in)
Location National Gallery and Munch Museum, Oslo, Norway

The Scream is the popular name given to a composition created by Norwegian Expressionist artist Edvard Munch in 1893. The original German title given by Munch to his work was Der Schrei der Natur (The Scream of Nature), and the Norwegian title is Skrik (Shriek). The agonised face in the painting has become one of the most iconic images of art, seen as symbolising the anxiety of modern man.

Expressionism modernist art movement

Expressionism is a modernist movement, initially in poetry and painting, originating in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Its typical trait is to present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas. Expressionist artists have sought to express the meaning of emotional experience rather than physical reality.

Edvard Munch Norwegian painter and printmaker

Edvard Munch was a Norwegian painter, whose best known work, The Scream, has become one of the most iconic images of world art.

German language West Germanic language

German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol in Italy, the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages that are most similar to the German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch, including Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.


Munch recalled that he had been out for a walk at sunset when suddenly the setting sunlight turned the clouds "a blood red". He sensed an ‘infinite scream passing through nature'. Scholars have located the spot to a fjord overlooking Oslo, and have suggested other explanations for the unnaturally orange sky, ranging from the effects of a volcanic eruption to a psychological reaction by Munch to his sister’s commitment at a nearby lunatic asylum.

Fjord A long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs, created by glacial activity

Geologically, a fjord or fiord is a long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs, created by a glacier. There are many fjords on the coasts of Alaska, Antarctica, British Columbia, Chile, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Kamchatka, the Kerguelen Islands, New Zealand, Norway, Novaya Zemlya, Labrador, Nunavut, Newfoundland, Quebec, Scotland, South Georgia Island, and Washington state. Norway's coastline is estimated at 29,000 kilometres (18,000 mi) with nearly 1,200 fjords, but only 2,500 kilometres (1,600 mi) when fjords are excluded.

Lunatic asylum Place for housing the insane, an aspect of history

The rise of the lunatic asylum and its gradual transformation into, and eventual replacement by, the modern psychiatric hospital, explains the rise of organised, institutional psychiatry. While there were earlier institutions that housed the "insane", the conclusion that institutionalisation was the correct solution to treating people considered to be "mad" was part of a social process in the 19th century that began to seek solutions for outside families and local communities.

Munch created four versions in paint and pastels, as well as a lithograph stone from which several prints survive. Both of the painted versions have been stolen, but since recovered. One of the pastel versions commanded the fourth highest nominal price paid for a painting at a public auction.

Pastel art medium

A pastel is an art medium in the form of a stick, consisting of pure powdered pigment and a binder. The pigments used in pastels are the same as those used to produce all colored art media, including oil paints; the binder is of a neutral hue and low saturation. The color effect of pastels is closer to the natural dry pigments than that of any other process.

Lithography Printing process

Lithography is a method of printing originally based on the immiscibility of oil and water. The printing is from a stone or a metal plate with a smooth surface. It was invented in 1796 by German author and actor Alois Senefelder as a cheap method of publishing theatrical works. Lithography can be used to print text or artwork onto paper or other suitable material.

Sources of inspiration

Edvard Munch, 1921 Edvard Munch 1921.jpg
Edvard Munch, 1921

In his diary in an entry headed "Nice 22 January 1892", Munch wrote:

I was walking along the road 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. [1]

He later described his inspiration for the image:

One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream. [2]

Among theories advanced to account for the reddish sky in the background is the artist's memory of the effects of the powerful volcanic eruption of Krakatoa, which deeply tinted sunset skies red in parts of the Western hemisphere for months during 1883 and 1884, about a decade before Munch painted The Scream. [3] This explanation has been disputed by scholars, who note that Munch was an expressive painter and was not primarily interested in literal renderings of what he had seen. Another explanation for the red skies is that they are due to the appearance of nacreous clouds which occur at the latitude of Norway and which look remarkably similar to the skies depicted in The Scream. [4] [5] Alternatively, it has been suggested that the proximity of both a slaughterhouse and a lunatic asylum to the site depicted in the painting may have offered some inspiration. [6] The scene was identified as being the view from a road overlooking Oslo, the Oslofjord and Hovedøya, from the hill of Ekeberg. [7] At the time of painting the work, Munch's manic depressive sister Laura Catherine was a patient at the mental asylum at the foot of Ekeberg.

1883 eruption of Krakatoa an explosive volcanic eruption felt around the world

The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa (Krakatau) in the Dutch East Indies began on the afternoon of Sunday, 26 August 1883, and peaked on the late morning of Monday, 27 August 1883, when over 70% of the island and its surrounding archipelago were destroyed as it collapsed into a caldera. Additional seismic activity was reported to have continued until February 1884, though reports of seismic activity after October 1883 were later dismissed by Rogier Verbeek's investigation into the eruption. The 1883 eruption was one of the deadliest and most destructive volcanic events in recorded history. At least 36,417 deaths are attributed to the eruption and the tsunamis it created. Significant additional effects were also felt around the world in the days and weeks after the volcano's eruption.

Oslofjord fjord in southern Norway, with Oslo bordering the fjord

The Oslofjord is an inlet in the south-east of Norway, stretching from an imaginary line between the Torbjørnskjær and Færder lighthouses and down to Langesund in the south to Oslo in the north. It is part of the Skagerrak strait, connecting the North Sea and the Kattegat sea area, which leads to the Baltic Sea. The Oslofjord is not a fjord in the geological sense — in Norwegian the term fjord can refer to a wide range of waterways. The bay is divided into the inner and outer Oslofjord at the point of the 17 by 1 kilometre Drøbak Sound.

Hovedøya island

Hovedøya is one of several small islands off the coast of Oslo, Norway in the Oslofjord. The island is quite small, no more than 800 metres across in any direction, the total area is 0,4 square kilometre. It is well known for its lush and green nature, with a wide variety of trees, bushes and flowers. For many, many years there was a military base on the island.

A Peruvian mummy at La Specola, Florence. Mummie di cuzco 04.JPG
A Peruvian mummy at La Specola, Florence.

In 1978, the Munch scholar Robert Rosenblum suggested that the strange, sexless creature in the foreground of the painting was inspired by a Peruvian mummy, which Munch could have seen at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. This mummy, which was buried in a fetal position with its hands alongside its face, also struck the imagination of Munch's friend Paul Gauguin: it stood as a model for figures in more than twenty of Gauguin's paintings, among those 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? . [8] In 2004, 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. [9] However, later studies have disputed the Italian theory, for Munch never visited Florence until after painting The Scream. [10]

The imagery of The Scream has been compared to that which an individual suffering from depersonalization disorder experiences, a feeling of distortion of the environment and one's self. [11]

Arthur Lubow has described The Scream as "an icon of modern art, a Mona Lisa for our time." [12] It has been widely interpreted as representing the universal anxiety of modern man. [13]


Munch created four versions in paint and pastels. The first painted version (shown above at right) was the first exhibited, debuting in 1893. It is in the collection of the National Gallery of Norway in Oslo. A pastel version from that year, which may have been a preliminary study, is in the collection of the Munch Museum, also in Oslo. The second pastel version, from 1895, was sold for $119,922,600 at Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art auction on 2 May 2012 to financier Leon Black. [14] [15] The second painted version dates from 1910, during a period when Munch revisited some of his prior compositions. It is also in the collection of the Munch Museum. These versions have seldom traveled, though the 1895 pastel was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from October 2012 to April 2013, [16] [17] and the 1893 pastel was exhibited at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2015. [18]

Additionally, Munch created a lithograph stone of the composition in 1895 from which several prints produced by Munch survive. [19] Only approximately four dozen prints were made before the original stone was resurfaced by the printer in Munch's absence. [20]

The material composition of the 1893 painted version was examined in 2010. [21] The pigment analysis revealed the use of cadmium yellow, vermilion, ultramarine and viridian among other pigments in use in the 19th century. [22]


The Scream has been the target of a number of thefts and theft attempts. Some damage has been suffered in these thefts.

Two men breaking into the National Gallery, Oslo, to steal the gallery's (1893 tempera on cardboard) version of The Scream, February 1994 TheScream Theft 1994.png
Two men breaking into the National Gallery, Oslo, to steal the gallery's (1893 tempera on cardboard) version of The Scream, February 1994

1994 theft

On 12 February 1994, the same day as the opening of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, two men broke into the National Gallery, Oslo, and stole its version of The Scream, leaving a note reading "Thanks for the poor security". [23] [24] The painting had been moved down to a second-story gallery [25] as part of the Olympic festivities. [26] After the gallery refused to pay a ransom demand of US$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 7 May 1994. [25] In January 1996, four men were convicted in connection with the theft, including Pål Enger, who had been convicted of stealing Munch's Vampire in 1988. [27] They were released on appeal on legal grounds: the British agents involved in the sting operation had entered Norway under false identities. [28]

2004 theft

The 1910 version of The Scream was stolen on 22 August 2004, during the daylight hours, when masked gunmen entered the Munch Museum in Oslo and stole it and Munch's Madonna . [29] A bystander photographed the robbers as they escaped to their car with the artwork. On 8 April 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. [30] [31] On 1 June 2005, with four suspects already in custody in connection with the crime, the city government of Oslo offered a reward of 2 million Norwegian krone (roughly US$313,500 or €231,200) for information that could help locate the paintings. [32] Although the paintings remained missing, six men went on trial in early 2006, variously charged with either helping to plan or participating in 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 US$117.6 million or €86.7 million) to the City of Oslo. [33] The Munch Museum was closed for ten months for a security overhaul. [34]

On 31 August 2006, Norwegian police announced that a police operation had recovered both The 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." [35] [36] 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. [37] 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. [38] 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, 5,500 people viewed the damaged paintings. The conserved works went back on display on 23 May 2008, when the exhibition "Scream and Madonna — Revisited" at the Munch Museum in Oslo displayed the paintings together. [39] Some damage to The Scream may prove impossible to repair, but the overall integrity of the work has not been compromised. [40] [41]

Record sale at auction

The 1895 pastel-on-board version of the work, owned by Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen, sold at Sotheby's in London for a record price of nearly US$120 million at auction on 2 May 2012. [42] [43] The bidding started at $40 million and lasted for over 12 minutes when American businessman Leon Black by phone gave the final offer of US$119,922,500, including the buyer's premium. [15] Sotheby's said the work was the most colorful and vibrant of the four versions painted by Munch and the only version whose frame was hand-painted by the artist to include his poem, detailing the work's inspiration. [16] After the sale, Sotheby's auctioneer Tobias Meyer said the work was "worth every penny", adding: "It is one of the great icons of art in the world and whoever bought it should be congratulated." [44]

The previous record for the most expensive work of art sold at auction had been held by Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves and Bust , which went for US$106.5 million at Christie's two years prior on 4 May 2010. [45] As of 2018, the pastel remains the fourth highest nominal price paid for a painting at auction. [46]

The mask from Scream (1996) was inspired by The Scream. ExpoSYFY Scream GhostFace mask.jpg
The mask from Scream (1996) was inspired by The Scream.
"The Silence" from Doctor Who, have an appearance partially based on The Scream. The Silence (6502037631).jpg
"The Silence" from Doctor Who , have an appearance partially based on The Scream.

In the late twentieth century, The Scream was imitated, parodied, and (following its copyright expiration) outright copied, which led to it acquiring an iconic status in popular culture. It was used on the cover of some editions of Arthur Janov's book The Primal Scream . [47]

In 1983–1984, pop artist Andy Warhol made a series of silkscreen prints copying works by Munch, including The Scream. His stated intention was to desacralize the painting by making it into a mass-reproducible object. Munch had already begun that process, however, by making a lithograph of the work for reproduction.

Erró's ironic and irreverent treatment of Munch's masterpiece in his acrylic paintings The Second Scream (1967) and Ding Dong (1979) is considered a characteristic of post-modern art. [48] The expression of Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) in the poster for the movie Home Alone was inspired by The Scream. Cartoonist Gary Larson included a "tribute" to The Scream (entitled The Whine) in his Wiener Dog Art painting and cartoon compilation, in which the central figure is replaced by a howling dachshund. The Scream has been used in advertising, in cartoons such as The Simpsons , films, and on television.

The principal alien antagonists depicted in the 2011 BBC series of Doctor Who , named "The Silence", have an appearance partially based on The Scream. [49] In 2001, Big Finish Productions did an audio, Dust Breeding , featuring the Seventh Doctor attempting to acquire The Scream from an art gallery in the future where it was destined to disappear in mysterious circumstances, but learned that it contained an ancient psychic weapon known as the Warp Core, which became trapped in the artist's mind until he 'exorcised' the Warp Core into the painting, with the Master's efforts to take control of the weapon damaging his body and his second attempt resulting in the destruction of the colony.

The Ghostface mask worn by the primary antagonists of the Scream series of horror movies is based on the painting, and was created by Brigitte Sleiertin, a Fun World employee, as a Halloween costume, prior to being discovered by Marianne Maddalena and Wes Craven for the film. [50]

In 2013, The Scream was one of four paintings that the Norwegian postal service chose for a series of stamps marking the 150th anniversary of Edvard Munch’s birth. [51]

A patient resource group for trigeminal neuralgia (which has been described as the most painful condition in existence) have also adopted the image as a symbol of the condition. [52]

The painting features in chapter 12 of Philip K. Dick's novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The two bounty hunters, Deckard and Resch are on the trail of Luba Luft, a suspect android. The painting is described as follows: "The painting showed a hairless, oppressed creature with a head like an inverted pear, its hands clapped in horror to its ears, its mouth open in a vast soundless scream. Twisted ripples of the creature's torment, echoes of its cry, flooded out into the air surrounding it: the man or woman, whichever it was, had become contained by its own howl."

In most Unicode emoji renderings, U+1F631😱FACE SCREAMING IN FEAR is made to resemble the subject of the painting. [53]

US Department of Energy Scream Scream face from US DOE Waste Isolation Pilot Plant plan.png
US Department of Energy Scream

A simplified version of the subject of the painting is one of the pictographs that was considered by the US Department of Energy for use as a non-language-specific symbol of danger in order to warn future human civilizations of the presence of radioactive waste. [54]

In 2016, Good Smile Company produced a figma action figure based on The Scream. [55]

See also

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Further reading