The Sky Was Screaming Blood and Fire: in New Study, Scientists Explain Clouds in Edvard Munch’s ‘Scream’

August 21, 2018

“A change in the weather is sufficient to recreate the world and ourselves.” Marcel Proust

 

The Scream is Munch's most famous work and one of the most recognizable paintings in all art history. It has been widely interpreted as representing the universal anxiety of modern man. Painted with broad bands of garish color and highly simplified forms and employing a high viewpoint, it reduces the agonized figure to a garbed skull in the throes of an emotional crisis.

With this painting, Munch met his stated goal of "the study of the soul, that is to say the study of my own self". Munch wrote of how the painting came to be: "I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature." He later described the personal anguish behind the painting, "for several years I was almost mad… You know my picture, 'The Scream?' I was stretched to the limit—nature was screaming in my blood… After that I gave up hope ever of being able to love again, this is according to munch experience."

 

Many researches have been conducted by scientists on "The Scream", there has been many theories on the inspirations of iconic red-and-yellow sky in the painting that sold for a record $119.9 million in 2012? Some say it was a volcanic sunset after the 1883 Krakatau eruption. Others think the wavy sky shows a scream from nature.

But scientists at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, University of Oxford and University of London suggest that nacreous, or "mother of pearl," clouds can be seen in southern Norway inspired the dramatic scene in the painting. Their study is published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

"What's screaming is the sky and the person in the painting is putting his or her hands over their ears so they can't hear the scream," said Alan Robock, study co-author and distinguished professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers-New Brunswick. "If you read what Munch wrote, the sky was screaming blood and fire."

There are four known versions of The Scream: an 1893 tempera on cardboard; an 1893 crayon on cardboard; an 1895 pastel on cardboard that billionaire Leon Black bought for nearly $120 million at auction; and a tempera on hard cardboard thought to have been painted in 1910.

Iridescent light from below the horizon illuminates polar stratospheric clouds, also known as nacreous clouds. Robock said the sky colors and patterns in Munch's paintings match sunset colors better when nacreous clouds are present versus other scenarios.

 

 

 

 

A study conducted in 2017 also proposed nacreous clouds. The latest studies provide a more detailed and scientific analysis of Munch's paintings, focusing on photographs of volcanic sunsets and nacreous clouds and analyzing the color content and cloud patterns. If the new analysis is correct, Munch's art is one of the earliest visual documentations of nacreous clouds, the study states. Robock and others have previously proposed that a volcanic sunset indeed  inspired the painting and he still thinks that is possible. This is according to the scientific research and metrological facts on the painting.


 

 

 

 

 

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