The Scream is the most renowned and reproduced of all of Edvard Munch’s pictures. With its expressive colours, flowing lines, and striking overall effect, The Scream has proven to have universal appeal.
The painting features a radically simplified landscape that is recognizable as the Kristianiafjord as seen from Ekeberg Hill, which overlooks the fjord, the city of Kristiania, and the hills to the north. In the background to the left, at the end of the road with a parapet that cuts diagonally inward into the picture, we see two figures strolling; the pair is often regarded as the two friends mentioned by Munch in notes relating to the painting. But it is the figure in the foreground that immediately captures our attention. Its head is in its hands and its mouth is shaped as a silent scream, amplified by the quavering movement of the surrounding landscape. The figure is ambigous and open to interpretation, and it is hard to pin down whether it is a man or a woman, young or old – or even whether it is a living person at all.
In his journal entries, Munch referred on several occasions to what underlay this depiction of existential angst. One version goes as follows: “I was walking along the road with two friends – Then the sun went down – The sky suddenly became blood, and I felt the great scream of nature –”. The Scream was first shown at Munch’s solo exhibition in Berlin in 1893. It was a central work in the series of paintings known as the Frieze of Life, and has been subject to a host of in-depth studies and interpretations. The painting also exists in a later version, currently dated to 1910, that belongs to the Munch Museum. Munch also elaborated the motif in drawings, pastels, and prints.
Text: Marianne Yvenes
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0