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Edvard Munch's "The Scream"
Who was Edvard Munch?
Edvard Munch (1863-1944) was a Norwegian artist who painted four versions of one of the most iconic paintings of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, The Scream.
This article will provide some biographical information about Munch and will explain why the main figure in Edvard Munch's paintings is screaming.
Munch's Early Years
Edvard Munch was born in the village of Ådalsbruk in Løten, Norway in December 1863. His father, Christian, was a doctor and medical officer, and his paternal grandfather was a priest. Munch’s mother, Laura Catherine, who was much younger than his father, was an artist. Munch’s mother died of tuberculosis when Munch was four years old, so Munch and his four siblings were raised by his father and his aunt Karen.
Christian Munch, Edvard's Father
Christian Munch, Edvard’s father, received low pay as a medical officer in the military. His attempts to supplement that pay by opening a private medical practice were not successful.
Munch was a sickly child who was frequently kept out of school. He spent his time drawing, an activity he loved, but one which his father greatly disliked.
Christian Munch was a very religious man, obsessively so. He was continually lecturing his children, telling them that their mother was watching them from heaven, and that she was very upset with their behavior. Munch told his children stories about ghosts and death, stories which frightened the five children.
Edvard Munch wrote
My father was temperamentally nervous and obsessively religious—to the point of psychoneurosis. From him I inherited the seeds of madness. The angels of fear, sorrow, and death stood by my side since the day I was born
Edvard Munch's Education
Edvard Munch enrolled in a technical college in 1879 to study engineering. He excelled in chemistry, math, and physics, but what he really enjoyed was creating perspective drawings.
Munch left college in 1880—he wanted to be a painter, not an engineer. Christian Munch’s reaction to his son leaving college was a new series of lectures about the evils and worthlessness assocated with being an artist.
At some point while Edvard was studying at the art school, Christian saw a nude painting created by Edvard. He destroyed his son’s painting and refused to give him any more money for art supplies. Edvard Munch, undeterred, continued to paint.
Public Domain Information Regarding "The Scream"
Edvard Munch created four versions of The Scream.
- The Scream (Oil, tempera, and pastel on cardboard, 1893)
- The Scream (Lithography, 1895)
- The Scream (Pastel on board, 1895)
- The Scream (Tempera on cardboard, 1910)
The images are in the public domain in the United States because they were first published outside the United States prior to January 1, 1923. Other jurisdictions have other rules.
The fourth image is not in the public domain in the area of the United States under the jurisdiction of the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit because it was first published after July 1, 1909. Edvard Munch died in 1944. If Munch had died in 1942 or earlier—more than 70 years ago—the tempera on cardboard version of The Scream painted in 1910 would be in the public domain in all of the United States.
Since the 9th Circuit covers both San Francisco—the city in which HubPages is located—and the city in Southern California in which I live, I am not able to include an image of the 1910 version of The Scream in my article.
Two 1895 Versions of "The Scream"Click thumbnail to view full-size
Why is the person in the painting screaming?
There has been much speculation throughout the years regarding the reason the individual in Edvard Munch's painting is screaming, apparently in terror. The explanation in Sky and Telescope magazine is the most understandable to me.
Volcanic Island of Krakatoa
On August 27, 1883, the volcanic island of Krakatoa in Indonesia erupted in a cataclysmic explosion. Dust and gases were sent high into the atmosphere. The debris mixed with the volcanic gases caused fiery sunrises and sunsets. These first occurred in the southern hemisphere, then near the equator, and then in the northern hemisphere.
The debris caused fiery sunrises and sunsets worldwide for many months. Edvard Munch was greatly affected by what he saw. He created four versions of The Scream to depict his feelings.
Inspired by Edvard Munch's "The Scream"
April is National Poetry Month—I prefer to think of it as World Poetry Month. I've been writing a poem every day, tweeting it and posting it on my Facebook wall.
While looking at the 1893 version of The Scream, I was inspired to write a tanka, a 31-syllable unrhymed poem. It's my fifth poem of the month.