Edvard Munch wrote ‘madman’ graffiti on Scream painting, scans show

The famous painting from 1893 will be exhibited in the new Norwegian National Museum from 2022

The artist Edvard Munch wrote mysterious graffiti on his painting of The Scream, as shown by infrared scans.

A small and barely visible sentence on one of the most famous paintings in the world has sparked many speculations in the art world.

The words “Could only have been painted by a madman” are inscribed in pencil in the upper left corner.

Now, new tests by the Norwegian National Museum have confirmed that they were done by the man himself.

The original painting, first exhibited in Munch’s hometown of Oslo (then Kristiania) in 1893, has become a radical and timeless expression of human fear. His influence extends into the horror film series Hollywood Scream of the 90s and into the modern emoji.

The artwork has been preserved in preparation for its installation in the new museum due to open next year in the Norwegian capital.

Art critics have long questioned whether the graffiti was an act of vandalism committed by an indignant bystander or written by Munch himself – who was known to have had mental health issues all his life.

The museum concluded that the words were written by Munch after using technology to analyze the handwriting and compare it to his own diaries and letters.

The Norwegian painter Edvard Munch painted a self-portrait on a beach in Germany in 1907

The Norwegian painter Edvard Munch painted a self-portrait on a beach in Germany in 1907

“The writing is without a doubt Munch’s own,” said museum curator Mai Britt Guleng.

“The manuscript itself and the events in 1895, when Munch first showed the painting in Norway, all point in the same direction.”

In 1994, The Scream was stolen from a Norwegian art museum. It was recovered by British detectives in a daring undercover operation.

“Deep feeling of fear”

The work sparked strong criticism at the time, along with public speculation about Munch’s state of mind.

Munch was deeply hurt by the reaction, according to his diaries, and it is believed that he returned to the painting in order to subsequently add his pencil statement.

The story goes on

Both Munch’s father and sister suffered from depression, and Munch was eventually hospitalized after a nervous breakdown in 1908.

His mother and older sister both died before the artist turned 14, his father died 12 years later, and another sister was admitted to an institution with bipolar disorder.

“For as long as I can remember, I have suffered from a deep sense of fear that I have tried to express in my art,” Munch wrote.

“Without this fear and illness, I would have been like a ship without an oar.”

In 2019, BBC Arts wrote that the work was “an expression of concern about a turning point in history in a world that is increasingly breaking away from ancient traditions,” and noted that “there are clear parallels in today’s world.

“This is surely why The Scream retains its power despite its ubiquity: It is a mirror of our own contemporary fears. Aren’t we all screaming inside too?”

The Scream will be on display at the Norwegian National Museum from 2022 along with a number of other works by Munch, including Madonna, The Dance of Life and Self-Portrait with a Cigarette.

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