The Scream (Skrik in the original, translated as Shriek) is a collection of Proto-Expressionist paintings by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, the first public one being an oil, tempera and pastel on cardboard exposed in 1893. It depicts an androgynous figure with an agonized and desperate face on a dock in a fjord looking at the viewer; two people walk away in the background, and the sun-setting sky is blood red.
Munch had inspiration in his experience feeling a melancholical and infinite scream through nature when walking with his friends in Oslo, making him feel much anxiety and exhaustion.Therefore, contrary to popular belief, the eponymous scream may not come from the central figure, but from nature itself, as in its German title, The Scream of Nature. Thus, the character is most likely not screaming, but, in fact, being frightened by the scream, covering his ears to blur it.
The nature of the scream Edvard heard has gotten different interpretations. Scientists suggest it may be linked to the eruption of Krakatoa in Indonesia in 1893, which created the loudest sound ever registered by humanity and could also explain the unnaturally red sky he describes. Others also relate it with the artist's personality: Munch lived nearby the mental hospital in which his sister was committed for life, and the scream could be a representation of his anxiety and despair.
It is the most famous painting out of Munch's works and was the largest influence and symbol of the Expressionist movement, becoming one of the most famous and recognizable paintings ever made. Its haunting, distorted and memorable expression of despair and dread, vibrant colors and sinuous lines have been seen as a visual representation of the anxiety and desperation in human condition and nature, relating to Munch's own experience with grief and anguish, present in several of his paintings. Thus, the painting has been subject of analysis and references to this day. For its imitations and parodies in pop culture, see "The Scream" Parody.
Edvard made four versions, two in paint and two in pastel, plus one lithograph in 1895:
- A 1893 pastel on cardboard, and possibly its earliest execution. It is at the Munch Museum, at Oslo, Norway.
- A 1893 oil, pastel and tempera on cardboard, the first one displayed to the public. It is the most famous and widely recognizable artwork of the composition, and the one providing the page image. It is currently on display at the National Gallery of Oslo. It was stolen on February 1994, and recovered on May of the same year.
- A second pastel in 1895, sold for nearly U$120 million in 2012 and currently in private collection.
- A 1910 tempera on cardboard painting, also at the Munch Museum. It was stolen in 2004 alongside "Madonna", other of Munch's paintings, but both were recovered in 2006.
Alongside the rest of Munch's portfolio, The Scream entered the public domain in 2015.
The Scream provides examples of:
- Anthropomorphic Personification: The central figure is a humanoid Allegorical Character of the despair, affliction, and anxiety found in human nature. It covers its ears in a feeble attempt of blocking out those emotions and has its mouth open because it has been rendered speechless by them.
- Ambiguous Gender: The central figure is very androgynous and slender. It also lacks hair and pretty much any feature other than its anguished expression. As a result, it could be of any gender.
- Author Avatar: The painting bears relation to a personal experience the artist had. One, when he was walking with his friends, and had a feeling of despair when hearing the scream of nature. Thus, the character covering his ears in terror is interpreted to represent the painter himself trembling with anxiety, with his friends being the two figures walking on in the background.
- The Blank: The central character has no hair, nose, eyebrows, or ears, further accentuating the eerie sensation of its excruciating and distorted expression. The two figures in the background also don't have distinguishable features.
- One-Word Title: In its original language, it's merely called Skirk (translation Shriek)
- Orange/Blue Contrast: In most of the versions, the bright and unnatural orange of the sunset contrasts with the deep blue of the river, helping it become a very striking image.
- Palm on Cheek Pose: The figure in the painting presses both of their hands against their cheeks, accentuating their mortified expression and the overall sense of dread throughout the painting.
- The Scream: It is the Trope Namer, but curiously, the central figure might not actually be an example, since it's likely it is reacting to the scream in question coming from nature, rather than shouting it as it is commonly believed.
- "The Scream" Parody: The Ur-Example; while not a parody of itself, thus not being the Trope Maker, Munch's work provides the basis for every use of this trope, with its vibrating colors, sinuous lines, and haunting expression of despair making it one of the most recognizable paintings in the public consciousness and pop culture.
- Self-Deprecation: The 1893 painting at the National Gallery has a small pencil inscription in the upper left corner saying "could only have been painted by a madman!". Analysis in 2021 confirmed it was indeed Edvard Munch who wrote it, most likely as a nod to detractors of the painting calling him crazy.
- Skull for a Head: The lack of hair, nose and ears, thin face, and pale skin give this impression to the androgynous figure. In fact, art historian Robert Rosenblum has suggested the face may be inspired by a similar mummy from the Peruvian Chachapoya people since Edvard might have seen its exposition in the Ethnographic Museum while he studied in Paris.
- Stock Shout-Outs: Akin to The Mona Lisa, The Scream has been implicitly and explicitly referenced in countless media, being one of the most well-known and recognizable workpieces in art History.
- Trope Codifier: It codified several of the Expressionist movement's characteristics. Mainly, the exaggerated Color Contrasts and the aggressive brush strokes that prioritize conveying emotion over technique.