The vandal behind one of the world’s most famous paintings5 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
Can you name the painting that is commonly known as the modern Mona Lisa? Hint: It has even inspired an emoji.
Unscramble this picture for the big reveal.
You guessed it. This tumultuous picture is the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch’s, painting from 1983 titled “The Scream”. The Scream is a remarkable painting for several reasons. First of all, glance at it. Is it not one of the most captivating sights that you’ve ever seen. How does it make you feel? Is the experience of the figure at the centre almost palpable? Can you sense the emotion that is coursing through the veins of that man on the bridge?
If you felt anxious or disturbed in some way, you experienced what Munch intended. This painting marked a shift from depicting communities and mythical imagery to an exploration of our individual internal states. Over time, “The Scream”, particularly the central figure with his mouth wide open as he screams in agony, has become an international symbol for angst.
Edvard Munch wrote in his diary that his inspiration for The Scream came from a memory of when he was walking at sunset with two friends. Munch suddenly felt a deep tiredness. He leaned against a railing and experienced an internal anxiety riddled scream that pierced through all of nature. Instead of shutting down that feeling Munch decided to explore it. He painted in the tradition of expressionism, an art form used to express what one feels but at the same cannot be seen. It is quite literally an expression of being alive. He used his art as a healthy outlet for what he felt, and in that way the painting was a sort of precursor to modern psychology as we know it.
No matter how much people studied the Scream, there was one mystery that remained shrouded in mystery. One of the paintings of The Scream, which is currently in Norway’s National Museum had a tiny inscription on top. It states “Could only have been painted by a madman”. Art Conservators and critics were dumbfounded, why would that be there? Was it an act of vandalism? Did a disgruntled viewer write it on the painting while they visited the museum? But then why would they write it in tiny almost unreadable letters in the corner? Did Munch write it himself, if yes, then why?
Well, the simple answer is: It was Munch. The curator of Norway’s Museum, Mai Britt Guleng, claimed that there “is no more doubt” that the culprit was, in fact, Munch himself. After using infrared light to study the writing, researchers and experts matched the Bs and Ds in the note, to Munch’s handwriting. It was a perfect match!
Owliver’s Obscure Observation: Edvard Munch, painted four versions of the scream over the years. Only one of them, that is in colour and has been created with oil pastels on paper, has this mysterious inscription. That version belongs to Norway’s National Museum.
Why did he do it?
Edvard Munch was suffering. This painting, he claimed, was a work created in a moment of extreme internal turmoil. He had lost his mother and sister to ill health at a young age, and this affected him quite badly. Moreover, mental illness ran in his family.
Munch dealt with his internal turmoil by painting. He would use his art to depict the state of his soul and mind. Nonetheless, it was important to Munch that he had control over his mental states. He wanted to be able to understand and depict his inner pain rather than be overwhelmed by it. So, when he overheard someone saying that his painting had to have been painted by a madman, Munch was deeply hurt. He often spoke about it and mentioned it in his diary several times. Researchers concluded that he probably wrote the note on the painting as he mulled over this hurtful statement.
Well, at the end of the day, the painting reflects a feeling we’ve all felt at some point. It was a masterful depiction of something we couldn’t see or touch, but only feel. And soon people took note. They found that his interpretations of his emotions resonated with them. By 2014, one of Munch’s renditions of The Scream has become the most expensive painting in the world!
How would you depict your inner state? Creatively depict something you feel but cannot perceive and share it with us on Instagram or in the comments below.