Edvard Munch The Scream
What can be said about one of the world's most ubiquitous images? As one of the most expensive paintings ever sold at auction and an avatar of both horror and depression, Edvard Munch's 1893 pastel-on-board masterpiece is an enigma. With little hint of any precursor to this deeply affective image, it appeared to visit the painter as something akin to a breath. As Munch himself recounts: 'I was walking along the road with two friends - the sun was setting - I felt something like a breath of melancholy - The sky suddenly turned bloody red - I paused... I stood there filled with anxiety - and felt a great unending scream resonate through nature.'
Like the great Van Gogh, Munch himself suffered from severe bouts of depression and captured with horror the moment when the pallid gloom of melancholy descends. Perhaps striking a chord with those who can only hope to visualise the often-indescribable nature of depression, The Scream is a manifestation of the human condition. One of four original versions painted between 1893 and 1910, the most famous was sold to the art collector and financier Leon Black in 2012 for $119,922,600 at Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art auction.
Munch first created this enduring image following an anxious experience he felt in 1892. It portrays a figure unable to escape the inner torment of his own existence which bends both his own form and that of nature into one unified movement emanating from his scream. Stylistically, Munch was greatly influenced by a visit he undertook to Paris in the 1890s, and was one of the first artists to appreciate the work of Van Gogh. With The Scream Expressionism was born and for decades Munch found the ideal method to express his inner turmoil and horror at the frieze of life. Recently the The Scream has become inexorably linked to the horror genre and has become an icon of external horror rather than that which threatens man from within.
Stark, subtle, and immensely immersive, Munch's work is one which transcends the typical relationship between viewer and object. With such inner complexity, and compositional mastery, The Scream harnesses the pace and perplexity of modern life and uses it to send a shiver through nature. It led the vanguard for expressing the individuality of human experience and was a significant precursor of Freud's Psychoanalysis, the theories and techniques that would shape twentieth-century art.
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