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The Scream

Artist: Edvard Munch
Created: 1893
Dimensions (cm): 73.5 x 91.0
Format: Tempera on board
Location: National Gallery of Norway

The Scream may be one of best known negative icons of modern popular culture. The haunting and tormented image has fascinated generations and has been endlessly reproduced. When the image was first viewed, however, it met highly negative and critical public reaction.

Munch's account of the personal experience which inspired The Scream is almost as unsettling as the work itself. Munch was walking with friends at sunset, when the sky suddenly turned blood red. The artist says, I stood there, trembling with fright. And I felt a loud, unending scream piercing nature. The location in which Munch stood and in which the painting is set is known to be near to an insane asylum from which screaming could sometimes be heard. One of Munch's friends had also committed suicide nearby. These factors surely contributed to the fear and horror which drove Munch to paint The Scream.

The work is crude and unpolished; the cardboard on which the pastels are painted shows through in certain areas. In the foreground, a sexless figure with a skull-like head and gaping mouth emits a silent scream. The curves of the figure echo the landscape and swirling red and yellow clouds in the sky. Because these forms are in tension with the diagonals of the road, the entire image is thrust forward rather than into depth. The vertical strip on the right-hand side also increases the spatial tensions which contribute to the overall chaotic feel of the work.

The Scream is part of Munch's 'Frieze of Life' sequence. The traumatic, emotional power which pervades the work comes from Munch's own anguished life. Munch reworked the image several times, but he always conveyed the intense pain and terror which plagued his own existence.


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