Scientists have established that the author of the mysterious inscription on the famous painting by Evard Munch “The Scream” was the Norwegian artist himself.
In the upper left corner of the work there is a barely discernible pencil inscription: “Only a madman could draw this.”
For a long time, art critics debated how it could have appeared. Some believed that it was made by Munch himself, who had experienced mental health problems during his life, others assumed that it was the work of an unknown visitor to the exhibition, dissatisfied with the content of the canvas.
Specialists from the National Gallery of Norway examined the painting using infrared scanning and came to the conclusion that the author of the inscription was Munch himself. To do this, they compared the handwriting with which it was made with the artist’s letters and diaries.
“This inscription is undoubtedly made by Munch himself,” said museum curator May Britt Guleng. “Both its content and the events of 1895, when Munch first showed this painting in Norway, lead in the same direction.”
According to Guleng, the artist wrote a few words on his painting after meeting with visitors to the exhibition, in which one of the spectators, a medical student, told him that the work was probably created by a person suffering from a mental disorder.
Irony and insult
“There is an element of irony, but it also shows his vulnerability,” Guleng quoted the Guardian as saying. “He took it very seriously and felt hurt because there were sick people in his family, and he was very afraid of it.”
According to the curator, Munch repeatedly returned to this incident in his letters, he was very concerned about the health problem after his sister died in childhood from tuberculosis, and later the same disease took the life of his mother. Munch’s father and older sister suffered from depression, and his other sister was hospitalized with bipolar disorder.
“It was very important for him to take control of how he understood himself and how others understood him,” the expert continues. [надпись] became a way to demonstrate such control, because others called him insane, but by doing this he kind of says, “I can joke about this.”
The Scream was first exhibited in Oslo (then called Christiania) in 1893, the painting became one of the most striking incarnations of anxiety in world art. The canvas has influenced many works of art and became part of pop culture – references to it are found in Hollywood films, it was even turned into emoji.
However, after the first demonstration in front of the public, the picture drew sharp criticism – and a lot of speculations about the mental health of Munch himself. Judging by the artist’s diaries, such a reaction offended him greatly.
“As far back as I can remember, I suffered from a deep sense of anxiety, which I tried to reflect in my art,” wrote Munch. “Without this anxiety and without illness, I would be like a ship without a rudder.”
In 2019, one of the BBC programs called the picture “the embodiment of his anxiety at a turning point in history, when the world was increasingly moving away from old traditions.” According to experts, the work has “clear parallels with today’s world.”
“Of course, this is why the Scream retains its power, despite the fact that it can be found literally everywhere: it is a reflection of our modern fears. Aren’t we all screaming in the same way inside?” – wrote the BBC columnists.
The Scream will be on display at the National Gallery of Norway, along with other works by Munch, in an exhibition dedicated to the artist’s work from 2022.
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