Preparing to open for 2022, the Norwegian National Museum has put an end to a mystery dating back to 1904. They have managed to answer the mysterious pencil sentence in the upper left corner of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” canvas. The phrase reads, “A madman could have only painted it“. For decades it has been a source of study, but no one has ever been able to figure out if it was by the author himself or added by other people at a later time.
This until today. Thanks to infrared technology, the writing on the original “The Scream” from 1893 has been confirmed as Munch’s. The writing was compared with the handwriting of the artist’s diaries and letters. The two styles and the calligraphy corresponded. “The handwriting is undoubtedly by Munch. The handwriting itself, as well as the events that took place in 1895, when Munch first showed the painting in Norway, all point in the same direction“, Mai Britt Guleng, a curator of the museum, told the Times.
— nasjonalmuseet (@nasjonalmuseet) February 22, 2021
As mentioned earlier, the message is only present in the 1893 version, the first that Munch painted. There are four depictions of “The Scream”, made in seventeen years, which goes from 1893 to 1910.
Experts also say the message may have been written following criticism in 1895, after the painting’s first exhibition. During a debate on the artist’s work, a medical student stated that “the work of art had given him a reason to question the artist’s state of mind“, calling Munch “abnormal and crazy“. Munch was deeply shocked. Although the artist certainly suffered a lot in his life due to a lack of emotional balance. According to an entry in his diary, Munch concocted “The Scream” for Kristiania as he witnessed a blood-red sunset. All this while he was battling depression, anxiety, and a deterioration in one’s mental health.
While the mystery of the message may have been solved, it’s nearly impossible to say for sure what motivated Edvard Munch to pin such an observation on what would ultimately be one of the most recognized and famous works of art in the world. What is certain is that “The Scream” continues over the years to strike audiences across the globe with its existential angst. And perhaps there has never been a more suitable time than this to look at it with new eyes.