With its distorted shapes and unearthly expression, The Scream is one of the most haunting paintings ever made. And its mystery has continued to grow ever since a scrawled message was found hiding away in a corner of the masterpiece. Experts have now examined this in more detail – and it seems that it’s not just the painting’s central character who was crying for help.
It’s an image as evocative as has ever been put to canvas. Below a blood red sky stands a figure, its droopy body shape almost alien-like. And within earshot of some passers-by, it clasps its hands to its ears. A look of utter horror spreads over the figure’s face in what appears to be an emerging hellscape.
To look at The Scream for one second is like looking into the eyes of a madman. And for years Edvard Munch’s expressionist painting has come to represent suffering in the modern age. As explained by Smithsonian Magazine in 2006, the artist and painting “defined how we see our own age – wracked with anxiety and uncertainty.”
The Scream arrived in an era when popular thought turned inwards to the mind. Because around this time, radicals like Sigmund Freud and Friedrich Nietzche were exploring our subjective experiences. And reflecting their pioneering work, The Scream evoked a mind engulfed by chaos, turmoil and apprehension.
It was exactly this sense of dread that Munch wanted to capture when painting the first version of The Scream in 1893. As the artist recounted in his diary the previous year, the inspiration came during a walk around Oslo with two friends. He was suddenly overcome by sickness. And upon stopping to rest, he felt the world turn in a way beyond his explanation.