Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Scream!

I've had Edvard Munch's The Scream (right, 1893 version, also known as The Cry) keep popping into my mind lately. This week I'm getting ready for an extremely busy spring quarter, which will start next Monday. Although I know that the workload will be manageable (I'm too organized to let things become unmanageable!), this image keeps coming to mind when I look at my upcoming calendar. There's so much work to be done!

I thought I'd share my two favorite things about this painting (well, I should say that there are four versions of this painting, but I especially like the 1893 version). My favorite art historical argument about The Scream was put forth in 1978 by Robert Rosenblum.1 Rosenblum argued is that the screaming figure was inspired by a Peruvian Mummy, which Munch would have seen on view at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. This mummy, called the "momie trépanée," is now located in the Musee de l'Homme in Paris (see an additional image of the mummy here). It is thought that Gauguin also saw this mummy on display; the old woman in his painting Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897) bears a strong resemblance to the mummy's features and fetal position.

I also love that The Scream has quite a history when it comes to art crime. Versions of The Scream have been stolen from the National Gallery in Norway (in 1994) and the Munch Museum (in 2004 - Wikipedia even has a photo of the thieves with their loot!). I think the 1994 story is especially interesting; a few years ago I read The Rescue Artist by Edward Dolnick, which discusses the theft and recovery in detail. If you're interested in art crime, I'd recommend this book. Essentially, two thieves simply propped a ladder against the window of the museum, shattered the glass, and stole the painting around 6:30 in the morning. The crime occurred on quite a historic day, 12 February 1994, the opening day for the Olympic Games held in Lillehammer. The painting was recovered in May of that same year.

On a side note, I wanted to point out that The Scream was originally titled Despair. (This original title doesn't surprise me, since it seems like Munch experienced a lot of despair and turmoil in his personal life.) I have to say, though, that I don't feel despair when I think about the upcoming spring quarter. Actually, I'm quite excited about it, even though I know it will be very busy.

1 Robert Rosenblum, "Symbols and Images of Edvard Munch," (National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1978).