The Scream

  • Artist: Edvard Munch
  • Creation date: 1893
  • Object type: Painting

About

The Scream is one of the most well-known pictures in the history of art, and has become a popular icon of our time. The figure in the picture has been used in many different contexts, and appears in everything from political posters to horror films. It even has its own emoji. The motif Edvard Munch created 130 years ago has now become a symbol we use to convey emotions.

From despair to a scream

In 1892 Munch painted the picture Sick Mood at Sunset. Despair, a motif that bears many similarities to The Scream. The colours, the format and size, the landscape and background figures – all are the same. Nevertheless, The Scream is radically different, because the main figure has been changed. In the first picture we see a clearly defined male figure wearing a hat and coat. In The Scream this figure has become a mysterious presence that is difficult to define. Is the figure we see a woman or a man? Is it wearing a black coat, or a dress? Is it a skull or a face we are looking at? Why doesn’t the figure have hair? These difficult and indistinct features of the figure make The Scream into a visual enigma.

A ground-breaking artwork 

The Scream is both simple and complex. It is complex because it lends itself to so many different interpretations. Its simplicity has to do with the actual execution of the picture. We know that Munch drew sketches and worked with the motif over a long period of time, but the painting technique and lack of detail give the impression that it was painted quickly and spontaneously. This approach, along with the vibrant, non-realistic colours, signified a new way of creating art. The Scream marks a decisive point in art history where form and content are closely interrelated and are meant to express the same subject matter. The work is a key turning point from the symbolism movement in art to the expressionism of the 1900s.  

An image of anxiety 

Before painting The Scream, Munch wrote a text that relates to the content of the picture:  

I was walking along the road with two 
friends – then the sun went {I went} down 
Suddenly the sky turned blood-red 
– and I felt 
a breath of melancholy 
– an exhausting pain 
under my heart – I paused, leaning against the fence, tired to death – above the blue-black fjord and city there was blood ‹in› tongues of fire 
My friends went on and I stood
there trembling
with anxiety –
and I felt that a gre{a}t infinit\e/ scre{a}m went through nature

(1892, MM T 2367) 

The landscape we see in the picture is recognisable through this description, and shows the Kristiania fjord (Oslo fjord) seen from Ekeberg hill. Two men, who are referred to as two friends in the poem, are walking in the background on the left. The Scream is often interpreted as a universal expression of anxiety and alienation, which is the subject of the poem he wrote. 

Artist/producer

Edvard Munch

Billedkunstner

Born 1863 in Løten, Hedmark, death 1944 in Oslo

Edvard Munch worked as an artist for over sixty years. He was creative, ambitious and hardworking. He produced nearly two thousand paintings, hundreds of graphic motifs and thousands of drawings. In addition, he wrote poems, prose and diaries. The Scream, Madonna, Death in the Sickroom and the other symbolist works from the 1890s have made him one of the most famous artists of our time.

"Don't become an artist!"

Edvard wanted to become an artist early on, and there was no doubt that he had talent. But his father refused to allow him to follow his dream, so Edvard began studying engineering. But already after one year he chose to defy his father, and switched from engineering college to the Norwegian National Academy of Craft and Art Industry in Kristiania, now Oslo.

A talented and provocative bohemian

It was obvious to everyone in the Norwegian art community that the young man showed rare talent. In 1883, at the age of 20, he debuted at Høstutstillingen (The Autumn Exhibition). In 1886, Munch became acquainted with author and anarchist Hans Jæger, a leading figure in the Kristiania bohemian community. The bohemian community convinced Munch that the arts had to renew themselves to reach people and to have relevance in their lives. In the same year he exhibited the painting The Sick Child. This generated debate!

Courage led to breakthrough

Some acclaimed The Sick Child a work of genius, while others deemed it unfinished and unworthy of exhibition. Today it is considered to mark Munch's breakthrough. It was here that demonstrated the independence and willingness to break fresh ground.

From this point until his final brush strokes, his artistic practice can be summed up in just word: experimentation. Munch did not care about established "rules" for so-called good art. His techniques in both painting and graphics were innovative.

From people's emotional life to agriculture and landscape

Henrik Ibsen's plays about humanity's existential challenges inspired Munch. Themes such as death, love, sexuality, jealousy and anxiety were central to his early images. Some themes sprang from personal experience. For example, Death in the Sickroom and The Sick Child are linked to his memory of his mother and sister's illnesses and early deaths.

After 1910, Munch chose a quieter and secluded life. At his own farms at Ekely in Oslo and in Hvitsten, he found entirely new motifs, such as agriculture, working life and landscapes. Man in the Cabbage Field is a typical example from this period.

Work info

Creation date:
1893
Other titles:
Skrik (NOR)
Object type:
Materials and techniques:
Tempera og fettstift på papplate
Material:
Dimensions:
  • Width: 73.5 cm
  • Height: 91 cm
Keywords:
Classification:
Motif - type:
Acquisition:
Gift of Olaf Schou 1910
Inventory no.:
NG.M.00939
Cataloguing level:
Single object
Owner and collection:
Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, The Fine Art Collections
Photo:
Høstland, Børre

"The Scream" relates to: