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The Scream

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The Scream
Norwegian: Skrik, German: Der Schrei der Natur
Artist Edvard Munch
Year 1893
Type Oil, tempera, and pastel on cardboard
Dimensions 91 cm × 73.5 cm (36 in × 28.9 in)
Location National Gallery, Oslo, Norway

The Scream ( Norwegian: Skrik) is the popular name given to each of four versions of a composition, created as both paintings and pastels, by the Expressionist artist Edvard Munch between 1893 and 1910. Der Schrei der Natur (The Scream of Nature) is the title Munch gave to these works, all of which show a figure with an agonized expression against a landscape with a tumultuous orange sky. Arthur Lubow has described The Scream as "an icon of modern art, a Mona Lisa for our time."

Edvard Munch created the four versions in various media. The National Gallery, Oslo, holds one of two painted versions (1893, shown at right). The Munch Museum holds the other painted version (1910, see gallery) and a pastel version from 1893. These three versions have not traveled for years.

The fourth version (pastel, 1895) was sold for $119,922,600 at Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern art auction on 2 May 2012 to financier Leon Black, the highest nominal price paid for a painting at auction. The painting is on display in the Museum of Modern Art in New York from October 2012 to April 2013.

Also in 1895, Munch created a lithograph stone of the image. Of the lithograph prints produced by Munch, several examples survive. Only approximately four dozen prints were made before the original stone was resurfaced by the printer in Munch's absence.

The Scream has been the target of several high-profile art thefts. In 1994, the version in the National Gallery was stolen. It was recovered several months later. In 2004, both The Scream and Madonna were stolen from the Munch Museum, and recovered two years later.


The Scream has been the target of a number of thefts and theft attempts. Some damage has been suffered in these thefts.

On 12 February 1994, the same day as the opening of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, two men broke into the National Gallery and stole its version of The Scream, leaving a note reading "Thanks for the poor security". The painting had been moved down to a second-story gallery, as part of the Olympic festivities. The presence of international media covering the games made the theft a sensation. After the gallery refused to pay a ransom demand of US$1 million in March 1994, Norwegian police set up a sting operation with assistance from the British police ( SO10) and the Getty Museum and the painting was recovered undamaged on 7 May 1994. In January 1996, four men were convicted in connection with the theft, including Pål Enger, who had been convicted of stealing Munch's Vampire in 1988. They were released on appeal on legal grounds: the British agents involved in the sting operation had entered Norway under false identities.

The 1910 tempera on board version of The Scream was stolen on 22 August 2004, during daylight hours, when masked gunmen entered the Munch Museum in Oslo and stole two paintings by Munch, Scream and Madonna. A bystander photographed the robbers as they escaped to their car with the artwork (shown at right). On 8 April 2005, Norwegian police arrested a suspect in connection with the theft, but the paintings remained missing and it was rumored that they had been burned by the thieves to destroy evidence. On 1 June 2005, with four suspects already in custody in connection with the crime, the city government of Oslo offered a reward of 2 million Norwegian krone (roughly US$313,500 or €231,200) for information that could help locate the paintings. Although the paintings remained missing, six men went on trial in early 2006, variously charged with either helping to plan or participating in the robbery. Three of the men were convicted and sentenced to between four and eight years in prison in May 2006, and two of the convicted, Bjørn Hoen and Petter Tharaldsen, were also ordered to pay compensation of 750 million kroner (roughly US$117.6 million or €86.7 million) to the City of Oslo. The Munch Museum was closed for ten months for a security overhaul.

On 31 August 2006, Norwegian police announced that a police operation had recovered both The Scream and Madonna, but did not reveal detailed circumstances of the recovery. The paintings were said to be in a better-than-expected condition. "We are 100 percent certain they are the originals," police chief Iver Stensrud told a news conference. "The damage was much less than feared." Munch Museum director Ingebjørg Ydstie confirmed the condition of the paintings, saying it was much better than expected and that the damage could be repaired. The Scream had moisture damage on the lower left corner, while Madonna suffered several tears on the right side of the painting as well as two holes in Madonna's arm. Before repairs and restoration began, the paintings were put on public display by the Munch Museum beginning 27 September 2006. During the five-day exhibition, 5,500 people viewed the damaged paintings. The conserved works went back on display on 23 May 2008, when the exhibition "Scream and Madonna — Revisited" at the Munch Museum in Oslo displayed the paintings together. Some damage to "The Scream" may prove impossible to repair, but the overall integrity of the work has not been compromised.

Record sale at auction

The 1895 pastel-on-board version of the painting, owned by Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen, sold at Sotheby's for a record US$120 million at auction on 2 May 2012. The bidding started at $40 million and lasted for over 12 minutes when Leon Black by phone gave the final offer of US$119,922,500, including the buyer's premium. Sotheby's said the painting was the most colorful and vibrant of the four versions painted by Munch and the only version whose frame was hand-painted by the artist to include his poem, detailing the work's inspiration. After the sale, Sotheby's auctioneer Tobias Meyer said the painting was "worth every penny", adding: "It is one of the great icons of art in the world and whoever bought it should be congratulated."

The previous record for the most expensive work of art sold at auction had been held by Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, which went for US$106.5 million at Christie's two years prior on 4 May 2010. When accounting for inflation, the highest price paid for art at an auction is still held by Van Gogh's Portrait of Dr. Gachet, which sold for $82.5 million in 1990, or about $145 million 2012 dollars. There have been reports that The Card Players, by Cézanne, sold privately for $250m in 2011, which can not be verified for the establishment of a record price.

In popular culture

In the late twentieth century, The Scream was imitated, parodied, and outright copies have been made following its copyright expiration, which led to it acquiring an iconic status in popular culture. It was used on the cover of some editions of Arthur Janov's book The Primal Scream. In 1983–1984, pop artist Andy Warhol made a series of silk prints copying works by Munch, including The Scream. His stated intention was to desacralize the painting by making it into a mass-reproducible object. Munch had already begun that process, however, by making a lithograph of the work for reproduction. Erró's ironic and irreverent treatment of Munch's masterpiece in his acrylic paintings The Second Scream (1967) and Ding Dong (1979) is considered a characteristic of post-modern art. Cartoonist Gary Larson included a "tribute" to The Scream (entitled The Whine) in his Wiener Dog Art painting and cartoon compilation, in which the central figure is replaced by a howling dachshund. The Scream has been used in advertising, in cartoons, such as The Simpsons, films, and on television. The principal alien antagonists depicted in the 2011 BBC series of Doctor Who, named " The Silence", have an appearance partially based on The Scream. The Ghostface mask worn by the primary antagonists of the Scream series of horror movies is based on the painting, and was created by Fun World employee, Brigitte Sleiertin, as a Halloween costume, prior to being discovered by Marianne Maddalena and Wes Craven for the film.

In 2013, The Scream was one of four paintings that the Norwegian postal service chose for a series of stamps marking the 150th anniversary of Edvard Munch’s birth.

A patient resource group for trigeminal neuralgia (which has been described as the most painful condition in existence) have also adopted the image as a symbol of the condition.

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