Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Scream (Skrik, 1893) is a seminal Expressionist painting by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. Regarded by many as his most important work, it is said by some to symbolize modern man taken by an attack of existential angst. The landscape in the background is Oslofjord, viewed from the hill of Ekeberg. The Norwegian word skrik is usually translated as "scream", but is cognate with the English shriek.
Munch executed four versions of the painting, of which the most famous are a tempera on cardboard version (measuring 83.5 x 66 cm) in the Munch Museum, Oslo, Norway (shown below), and an oil, tempera, and pastel on cardboard (measuring 91 x 73.5 cm) in the National Gallery (shown to right), also in Oslo. A third version is also owned by the Munch Museum, and a fourth is owned by Petter Olsen . Munch later also translated the picture into a lithograph (shown below), so the image could be reproduced in reviews all over the world. However, the original is currently missing, having been stolen by art thieves in August 2004.
Sources of inspiration
Munch wrote, concerning the image:
- I was walking along a path with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.
This has led some commentators to propose that the person in the painting is not screaming, but reacting with despair to the scream passing through nature.
The scene is from a road overlooking Oslo, the Oslofjord and Hoved°ya , from the hill of Ekeberg.
In 2003, astronomers claimed to have identified the time that the painting depicted. The eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 caused unusually intense sunsets throughout Europe in the winter of 1883-4, which Munch captured in his picture. 
In 1978, the renowned Munch scholar Robert Rosenblum suggested that the strange, sexless creature in the foreground of the painting was probably inspired by a Peruvian mummy which Munch could have seen at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. This mummy, which was crouching in fetal position with its hands alongside its face, also struck the imagination of Munch's friend Paul Gauguin: it stood model for the central figure in his painting Human misery (Grape harvest at Arles) and for the old woman at the left in his painting Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?. More recently, an Italian anthropologist speculated that Munch might have seen a mummy in Florence's Museum of Natural History which bears an even more striking resemblance to the painting. 
It should also be noted that Munch's manic depressive sister Laura Cathrine was interned in the mental hospital at the foot of Ekeberg.
On 12 February 1994 the National Gallery's Scream was stolen. Initially the theft was linked to various anti-abortion groups active in Norway, but this turned out to be false. After three months, the painting was offered back to the Norwegian government for a ransom of USD $1 million. The ransom was refused, but the painting was nevertheless recovered on 7 May, following a sting operation organised by the Norwegian police with assistance from the British Police and the Getty Museum.
On August 22, 2004, the Munch Museum's Scream was stolen at gunpoint, along with Munch's Madonna. Museum officials expressed hope that they would see the painting again, theorizing that perhaps the thieves would seek ransom money. The paintings are still missing. On April 8, 2005, Norwegian police arrested a suspect in connection with the theft. 
Role in popular culture
In the late 20th century, The Scream acquired iconic status in popular culture. In 1983-1984, pop artist Andy Warhol made a series of silk prints of works by Munch, including The Scream. The idea was to desacralize the painting by devaluating its originality and making it into a mass-reproducible object. However, as remarked above, Munch had already begun that process himself, by making a lithograph of the work for reproduction.
The works' reproduction on all kinds of items, from tee shirts to coffee mugs, bear witness of its iconic status as well as of its complete desacralization in the eyes of today's public. In that respect, it is comparable to other iconic works of art, such as Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. The Scream is an emotionally very potent work, and the banalization of the image in popular culture can be interpreted as an attempt to defuse the feeling of unease it inevitabily provokes in the viewer.
An American muralist, Robert Fishbone, discovered a gap in the market when in 1991 he started selling inflatable dolls of the central figure in the painting. His St. Louis-based company, On The Wall Productions, has sold hundreds of thousands of them. Critics will observe that by taking the figure out of its context (the landscape), Fishbone has destroyed the unity of Munch's work, thereby neutralizing its expressive force.
As one of very few works of modern art that are instantly recognizable even to people who know very little about art, The Scream has been used in advertising, in cartoons and on television. In one of her chat shows, Dame Edna Everage appeared in a Scream-patterned dress. The work has also fascinated film makers. Ghostface, the crazy slasher in Wes Craven's Scream horror movies, wears a Halloween mask reminiscent of the central figure in the painting. Child actor Macaulay Culkin's pose in front of the mirror, in Home Alone by Chris Columbus, also refers ironically to Munch's work.
- The screaming popes paintings by Francis Bacon such as Study after Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X.
- Art theft
- The painting
- Guardian news story
- Munch Museum, Oslo, Norway
- Scream stolen from Norway museum (BBC news, Sunday, 22 August, 2004)
- Armed robbers steal 'The Scream'
- On The Wall Productions, makers of the inflatable Scream doll.
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