The Scream, Everyone’s Inner Angst With a Rock Star Reputation
I was walking along the road with two of my friends. The sun set—the sky became a bloody red. And I felt a touch of melancholy — I stood still, dead tired — over the blue-black fjord and city hung blood and tongues of fire. My friends walked on — I stayed behind — trembling with fright. I felt the great scream in nature. E.M.
The words above, written and initialed by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944), are hand-painted on the plaque affixed to the golden frame of his pastel icon The Scream (1895), now on view at New York City's MoMA until April 29, 2013.
Like the original Mona Lisa that can be seen at The Louvre, this Scream is of modest proportions, a mere 32 by 23 ¼ inches. But its smallish size belies its outsized, rock star reputation (and frequent imitation and caricature), a reputation built on its appeal to everyone’s inner angst.
But as the inscription indicates, the title of the work actually refers to “the great scream in nature” that Munch witnessed one evening, and not to the solitary figure’s scream. As the Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture Ann Temkin explains in the show’s audio guide, the wraithlike protagonist with ears cupped is reacting to the wild landscape. “He is experiencing this horrible scream completely taking over the atmosphere … It’s almost like it’s pounding into his left ear … He’s responding to a scream, rather than emitting a scream.”
A pastel drawing on paper mounted on cardboard (not canvas, which is a more elegant surface), this Scream is the third in a series of four Screams executed between 1893 and 1910. The brightest, most colorful of the group, it draws its immediate inspiration from the original painting, an oil, tempera, pastel, and crayon composition, now in the collection of the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo.
The 1895 version on loan to MoMA is the only one of the four that remains in private hands; all the rest belong to museums. It is widely believed that this instantly recognizable pastel was purchased at auction last May by MoMA trustee and billionaire financier Leon Black — for a record $199.9 million, the most ever paid for a work of art at auction, according to Sotheby’s.
Edvard Munch. The Scream, 1895. Pastel on board. Lent by a private collector
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