According to a recent article in the Huffington Post, scientists may have finally figured out why the man in Edvard Munch’s iconic painting is screaming. “The Scream” depicts a man under extreme psychological duress screaming before a swirling red sky. It is an image that Munch painted four different versions of between the late 1800’s and early 1900s, one version breaking records in 2012 when it sold at auction for nearly $120 million.
Although there have been many speculations about the raging weather conditions in this work being the manifestation of the man’s dread and anguish, a new theory was offered recently at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna. Dr. Helene Muri of the University of Oslo suggested that Munch was simply depicting a rare weather phenomenon known as nacreous clouds, or sometimes “screaming clouds”. These thin, wavy, colorful clouds only appear at sunset or after dark and are brought about by extremely cold temperatures at very high altitudes combined with humidity. Nine years before Munch painted his first version of “The Scream” there had been an eruption of the Krakatoa volcano, which had left volcanic fallout in the air yielding sunsets with fiery colors. There is evidence that there were nacreous clouds in the Oslo area in Munch’s time, and Muri posits that it is understandable that Munch would have had an extreme reaction to the sight. In his journal entry from 1890 the artist notes ‘’The sky suddenly became bloodish red. I stopped, leant against the fence, tired to death – watched over the flaming clouds as blood and sword the city – the blue-black fjord and the city – My friends went away – I stood there shivering from dread – and I felt this big, infinite scream through nature.” Although we may never know with absolute certainly if Munch was actually inspired by this rare meteorological occurrence or internal angst, this new hypothesis adds to the lure of this classic, enduring work. See prints of “The Scream” here.