Edvard Munch: The Scream
It’s context within the artist’s oeuvre.
Edvard Munch dating from 1863 to 1944 played a major role in modern art through expressionism and symbolism. His most renowned work The Scream (1893) remains in the National Gallery of Oslo measuring 91 x 73.5 centimetres. It is an oil on cardboard work although Munch also created several versions including pastel and a lithograph model. The Scream was part of a series ‘The Frieze of Life’, four elements which are described as ‘pictures of life’ including Seeds of life, Love, Flowering and Passing of Love, and Life Anxiety and Death.
This work was a major element of modern art and fundamentally expresses the element of anxiety within Munch and amongst society. This work arose from a personal experience as most of his works relate to the illness and mortality which continuously affected his life such as the death of his mother in 1868, his sister in 1877 and father in 1889. These life events affected Munch’s psychological perspective of the world around him and of himself which is what this work portrays. Munch stated “And for several years I was almost mad- that was the time when the terror of insanity reared up its twisted head, you know my picture, The Scream? I was being stretched to the limit- nature was screaming in my blood – I was at breaking point .” He communicated these feelings of anxiety and suffering through his works which gradually depict his psychological development and significant expression.
Although his work is increasingly distinctive, Munch was previously heavily influenced by artists in Paris in 1889 such as Paul Gauguin and Van Gogh. These experiences transformed his art from a realism perspective to his own personal outlook. Munch learnt art through naturalism where the focus was based on observation and real depictions of the subject matter. He then substituted Naturalism for an Expressionist style embracing symbolist imagery.
The scream was first worked out in pastel on a piece of cardboard The previous lines underneath are still visible adding to the movement and motion of line. This whirling sensation created is as a result of these dynamic lines, curving meander of art nouveau lines and contrasting colours which are not only restricted to the limitations of the sky but submerge throughout the painting.
The bases of The Screams’ composition originates from Munch’s previous painting Despair (1892) but involves slight alterations. The introduction of the two figures on the left suggest depth in the painting and create a vertical contrast to the horizontal surge of lines of the fjord.
The diagonal lines of the bridge contrast with the curved landscape, reflective lake and sky creating a powerful dynamic. The art nouveau curvilinear lines clearly depict the emotion in which Munch wants to portray. The lonely foreground figure becomes isolated by staring outwards almost confrontationally additionally enhanced by its outline. Munch ultimately portrays a visual representation of his thoughts as the scream vibrates throughout the landscape. This enhances an engaging element to the work. Munch becomes immersed in his despair leaving him overwhelmed with the thoughts, “I felt a touch of melancholy, I stood still, leaned on the railing dead tired with fatigue. Above the blue-black fjord hung the clouds, red as blood & tongues of fire. My friends had left me, and alone, trembling with anguish, I became aware of the vast, infinite scream pouring through nature”.
The four coloured versions of The Scream are all on cardboard and are created with a variety of mediums as Munch took a new approach instead of creating his work solely with oil. It’s context within the Modernist movement.
The Scream derives from expressionism. This movement developed in countries such as France and Germany followed by countries such as Norway. Munch would also be described as a post-impressionist artist. He strongly contrasts with Matisse in comparison with their activity, setting and technique such as his Primitivism work Blue Nude (1907). He becomes influenced by the colour from artists such as Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh.
Van Gogh’s colour is also expressive as he adopted pure bright and contrasting colours. Like Munch he did not want to just capture what he saw but the emotion and expression surrounding it. Van Gogh’s Wheat Field and Crows work in 1890 was one of his last paintings. Chaos is portrayed through the movement of brushstrokes and symbolism of the crows. This intensity of the work portrayed the extreme despair and loneliness which Van Gogh was experiencing.
In contrast with Caillebotte’s Parisian urban images of the 1870s particularly 1880, Caillebotte captures the Haussmanisation elements of Paris, the balcony views of the cities’ boulevards and the leisure which follows, he incorporates the prestige and political development. In contrast to this, Munch takes an alternative perspective on the internal element of city life. His psychological response reveals the anonymous faces, shadowed strangers and the fears that arise from such city environments. He ultimately reflects the fundamental issue of anxiety and alienation of an individual in society.
It’s importance within Modernism as a whole.
Expressionism is defined as the exaggerations and distortions of line and colour; abandoning naturalism elements and creating emotional impact. This movement involved physical sensations and body as central themes which directly relates to The Scream.
In the 1896 Salon des Independents exhibition, a lot of Psychiatric doctors and those interested in psychology were attracted to The Scream and its expressiveness. Munch was one of the first artists to analyse and represent their own emotional state which significantly made him one of main figures of modernism.
The influences in its creation both within art and without.
Fundamentally Munch is heavily influenced by the urban artwork of Paris during the 19th century where his work advanced and where the expansion and absurdity of city life developed.
A main concern of Munch was for his work to have meaning past the visible aspect, such as a religious or spiritual meaning. He believed his work should have a deeper subject beyond the image itself which is what separates Munch from other artists. In relation to symbolism, Munch stated that “nature is moulded according to your subjective mood.”
There is an historical element to the influences for this artwork as it is believed that the Peruvian Mummy from the World’s Fair Paris 1889 influenced Munch immensely through the hollow gauntness and fear emerging from the skull. The effective positioning of the hands and expression reflected from Munch’s depiction carries many similarities.
Munch’s interpretations and symbolism marks a major part in modernism and the emotions that are derived from his works will be eternally engaging. This image has also been adapted by artists such as Andy Warhol and has influenced many productions for television and film.
The real concept of his paintings always emerges behind the visible element of the painting. This work has become an eternal icon expressing the feelings of loneliness, alienation, anxiety and isolation of modern-day people which still apples centuries later.