'The Scream:' Facts And Stories About Edvard Munch's Iconic Painting

By | June 4, 2021

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Munch made several versions of his famous painting, including this one in pastels. (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Norwegian artist Edvard Munch's most well-known painting, 1893's The Scream, has become a modern emblem of anxiety, but what was Munch really thinking when he painted this striking figure? And what has happened to it since?

What Is The Scream About?

In his diary, Munch recounted strolling along a bridge over a fjord one evening when he broke away from his companions to watch the sunset and had a most unusual vision. He imagined that the sky turned to blood, the fjord turned black, and nature screamed, but only he could hear it. Determined to capture his vision on canvas, the result was The Scream, which was originally titled The Scream Of Nature.

But is there more to it than a bizarre fancy? Art critics have pointed out that the bridge seen in The Scream was a popular suicide bridge located near the asylum where Munch's sister lived after she descended into schizophrenia and Munch himself suffered from depression as well as the fear that mental illness would likewise ruin his life. They believe The Scream may have been a cry for help from an artist entertaining suicidal thoughts.

It's also been thought that Munch was inspired by a mummy, either that of a Chachapoyas warrior discovered near Peru's Utcubamba River who appeared to have died screaming that became a popular attraction or another Peruvian mummy displayed in Florence. It has since come to light that Munch didn't visit Florence until after he painted The Scream, but evidence suggests he might have seen the Chachapoyas warrior when it was displayed in Paris.

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Peruvian mummy at La Specola, Florence. (Sailko/Wikimedia Commons)

Theft And Chocolate

A century after it was painted, The Scream became a popular target of art thieves. In 1994, while everyone was distracted by the opening of the Winter Olympics in Lilllehammer, Norway, one gang climbed a ladder to a window in Oslo's National Gallery and stole the painting before leaving a note that simply said "Thanks for the poor security."

It only took a few months to recover the painting, but the gallery's security team apparently didn't take the note seriously. Ten years later, two masked and armed men burst into the museum in the middle of the day and took two paintings, The Scream and Madonna. Three men were arrested and tried for the crime, but the paintings remained missing for more than two years.

Never one to pass up a marketing opportunity, the Mars candy company produced a campaign offering two million M&Ms as a reward for the safe return of The Scream. Only a few days after the commercial aired, a petty convict began negotiations with lawyers for a plea deal, demanding the two million candies as well as conjugal visits in exchange for the location of the painting. It was recovered, but Mars refused to reward the criminal, insisting instead that the candy be given to the Norwegian police to thank them for their tireless work. The police in turn suggested that Mars give the cash equivalent of two million M&Ms, approximately $26,000, to the Munch Museum in Oslo.