Do you ever just feel like screaming? Giving a good holler to release that inner buildup of steam?
Of course, I wish no one any reason to cry out in fear, pain, bad surprise or road rage. But as they, say the struggle is real, and everyone could do with some stress relief in the form of guttural yowling.
There, feel better? Now, there was a famous Norwegian painter who understood the power of a hearty shout, visually speaking. And although Edvard Munch was painting the ferocious red glory of a sunset, not human troubles, when he fashioned The Scream, the drama is all very relatable.
Quoth the artist, “I was walking along a road one evening with two friends — on one side lay the city, and below me was the fjord. The sun went down — the clouds were stained red, as if with blood. I felt as though the whole of nature was screaming — it seemed as though I could hear a scream. I painted that picture, painting the clouds like real blood. The colours screamed.”
There’s a brutality there that suggests Nature has a consciousness and some really bad days of its own. And that it creates poetic souls to translate its sublimeness to the rest of us. Did you think that Munch could be so struck by such perceived anguish and recreate the raging scenery just once? Nah. He outdid the standard teen lit trilogy and produced four versions of this art historically exalted image. Each bears gripping semblance to its siblings and each was rendered on cardboard, although the media in which they were rendered differs and their expressive qualities enjoy sanguine idiosyncrasies.

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893, Tempera on cardboard, National Gallery, Oslo

Just above is one of two versions Munch painted in 1893, and it’s nestled nicely into the collection of Oslo’s National Gallery. He used tempera pigments here, and it is perhaps the most coherent and polished of the compositions, the one on gift shop mugs and magnets, though the sky appears a melting Dreamsicle and the waters below swirl and scrabble together as if in a toilet bowl. Adding to its mystique and provenance — this version was stolen and recovered relatively quickly in 1994.

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1983, Crayon on cardboard, The Munch Museum, Oslo

The other 1893-er resides in the Munch Museum in Oslo. It is more schematic, sort of drawn in childlike fear of the Bogeyman. Munch’s haste to feel out the correct flow of line is tangible, and its spartan characteristic ensures that each mark on the cardboard, in crayon this time, has a purpose in brining perspective and chaos to the picture. Some have suggested that this is more of a study or the artist’s tossed aside first attempt at crystallising the image in his head.  Yet I find the speed with which the wooden bridge streaks away from the howling protagonist and the blatant, choppy lines that make up the fjord act like a vacuum, sucking the viewer into this anxious, reduced world.

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1895, Pastel on cardboard, Private collection

An 1895 version in pastel is the elusive blockbuster of the group. Housed in two private collections for the better part of the last century, it’s not often glimpsed in public, and the public generally gapes to realise its last sale price at auction — a whopping one hundred nineteen-some million dollars. Given its curb appeal, one can begin to comprehend its price tag. It’s the most heavily saturated with colour of the series, red and black and blue punching the eye into a sense of energised melancholy. The gentlemen in the distance stroll and fidget, a neatly depicted boat floats on a golden dribble of hope. And the screamer, one with the royal blue stream, shot through with scarlet bridge railing, nearly meets the viewer’s gaze. A cavernous mouth, stretching nostrils and blooming pupils ready to consume all in anguish.

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1910, Tempera on cardboard, The Munch Museum, Oslo

Munch carried on with his affairs but inevitably returned to his already-recognisable subject matter in 1910. (If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; he later made a fair deal of screaming lithographies, too.) And he returned with ghoulish tempera fervour. The water, murkier than ever, sits ready to consume all in a single wash. Waxy and seasick green, the central figure squalls from a mouth as white as its empty eye sockets — the gaze held this time — clutching a gaunt head with huge sallow hands, and dissolving into the bridge streaked with the rusted blood of the sky. Both his companions are slowly drifting away, very possibly forever.
This version of The Scream, funnily enough, was also stolen, plucked from the walls of the Munch Museum in 2004. It resurfaced two years later and fortunately peers on, like its three brethren, a testament to the elegance and power of emotional release, of feeling reverent fear of the world’s forces that are much greater than mere humanity. The beauty in acknowledging and dealing with the ugliness within and without.
Bérénice Franck
Source: Sue Prideaux, Edvard Munch: Behind the Scream, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005

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