You heard that right: you have ‘The Scream’ all wrong
It turns out that the figure in the painting is not screaming at all
Look at Edvard Munch’s The Scream and what do you see? According to the British Museum, you may have it all wrong.
Many people believe it shows a man screaming. Not so, says the museum, which is about to display a rare black and white lithograph of the image.
“This rare version of The Scream that we’re displaying at the British Museum makes clear that Munch’s most famous artwork depicts a person hearing a scream and not, as many people continue to assume and debate, a person screaming,” said Giulia Bartrum, curator of a forthcoming exhibition devoted to the Norwegian artist.
The lithograph, unlike the coloured works, features an inscription by Munch that reads: “I felt the great scream throughout nature.”
It is a reference to his inspiration for the painting. Munch was walking by a fjord overlooking Oslo in 1892 when the sky turned blood red, a sight that had a profound effect upon him.
“Munch very deliberately included the caption on this version to describe how his inspiration came from the anxiety he suddenly felt,” Bartrum said.
“He was trying to capture an emotion or moment in time. Through the inscription, we know how he felt. People think this is a screaming person, but that’s not what is going on.
“It is a man hearing, whether in his head or not. He feels the sensation of nature screaming all around him.
“I have no doubt that this iconic figure is reacting to nature’s external forces on that hillside. What can still be debated is whether, for Munch, those forces were real or psychological.”
The issue of whether the figure is screaming or listening has been alive for decades. Gunnar Sorensen, the former director of the Munch Museum in Oslo, has said: “It could be a scream in nature or a person screaming. It is a question of interpretation.”
But Stein Olav Henrichsen, Soerensen’s successor, said the British Museum has it right. “There are lots of comments on this work, but we have Munch’s own words, and this is someone covering their ears as they hear nature screaming.
“But we do not mind at all if people interpret it in different ways. During the Cold War, Time magazine put The Scream on the front page as a comment on the era and the atomic bomb. We have heard that some English people are using it for Brexit. People can interpret and enjoy art in different ways.”
Edvard Munch: Love and Angst, which runs at the British Museum from April 11 to July 21, will be the largest exhibition of the artist’s prints in the UK for 45 years.
It includes nearly 50 loans from the Munch Museum.
The Scream is the highlight – the black and white print was disseminated widely in Munch’s lifetime and made him famous.
The monochrome treatment emphasises the wavy lines in the sky that “give the sensation of a tuning fork resonating around the figure”, Bartrum said.
“When you look at it, you can almost hear a sound.”
The Scream is one of the most recognisable artworks in the world because it has “a simplicity and an immediate impact for everybody, wherever you come from”, she added.
– © The Daily Telegraph