“It could only have been painted by a madman”: so reads a small handwritten inscription in the upper corner of The Scream , the most famous painting by the Norwegian Edvard Munch (Løten, 1863- Skøyen, 1944), made in 1893.
The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design of Norway has announced that the message, discovered in 1904 and taken at the time as an act of vandalism, was made by the author. The research took place while the painting was being restored with a view to the opening of the new Norwegian National Art Museum, scheduled for 2022.
Mai Britt Guleng, curator of the museum in classical and modern art, relates the finding for EL PAÍS by email. “We felt that the restoration process was the best time to do the research.
It had never been given much attention, nor had its author been reliably known ”, explains the expert, who indicates that the painting will be part of a new room dedicated to Munch in the new center. The painter’s work will also have a new house designed by the Spanish office of Juan Herreros, in a 13-storey complex facing the Oslo fjord.
Infrared photograph of ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch.
The inscription was among the nightmarish red and orange clouds that provide background to the anguished figure that has become an emblem of modern art. The curator explains that the infrared photography allowed creating the necessary contrast so that the inscription was clear and legible, perfect to be compared with Munch’s calligraphy.
It is not known when or why the painter wrote this message, but Guleng and his team point to the possibility that the message dates from two years after the painting was finished: “When Munch exhibited The Scream and other of his works in Oslo In 1895, critics reviled his work.
There was a public debate in the students’ association of the University of Oslo, in which it is probable that he was present. A young medical student named Johan Scharffenberg declared that Munch’s work was a sign of mental illness. Given this, the inscription can be seen as a witty response from the artist, but also a more self-critical and melancholic comment ”.
“It could only have been painted by a madman”
Munch declared in his diaries that The Scream was born in “a fit of melancholy.” However, despite her problems with anxiety and alcoholism, the commissioner notes that for much of her life she enjoyed excellent mental health.
“Maybe he was neurotic, but no more so than the rest of us,” says Guleng, adding that in 1908 the artist suffered a nervous breakdown, from which he quickly recovered. Also, that he studied in depth the elements of the human condition: “Death, anxiety, loneliness, illness.”
Lithograph ‘The Scream’, by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, in the British Museum, London. Munch had a productive career and after his death in 1944 a good part of his work – 1,106 paintings, 15,391 prints and 4,443 drawings – was donated to the Norwegian Government.
One of his paintings, Atardecer , rests in the permanent collection of the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza and three more make up the Carmen Cervera deposit. Paloma Alarcó, head of the institution’s Modern Painting Conservation Area, was curator of the Arquetipos retrospective in 2015 , where the gallery presented 80 works by the Norwegian painter and affirms that “there is always something attractive” in everything that surrounds the artist from The scream .
Alarcó considers that “more than an autobiographical artist, Munch is a painter of archetypes of human feelings” and that his paintings had an “almost theatrical” element influenced by the work of playwrights like Ibsen. He reflects that, although at first Munch portrayed his relatives, with the passage of time his protagonists became anonymous, impersonal: “In the end, in his paintings, we are not seeing his life but the biography of so many people.”