Painted in 1893, it depicts a human-like figure with a horrified expression, staring at the viewer from his place on a bridge near a body of gray water, a bright orange sky spread out behind him. The figure is bald and wearing black, his face warped and disfigured; by contrast, the other inhabitants of the bridge that can barely be seen in the background seem roughly normal in shape.
The work is one of the most-recognized paintings in the world, and its image has been reproduced countless times, seeping into pop culture and even eventually being parodied by many artists, such as Andy Warhol. Many cartoons, movies, TV shows, and other modern popular media have similarly parodied the image over the years. For example, the image on the movie poster for Home Alone was almost certainly inspired by Munch's work, as well as the mask of the character Ghostface in The Scream series of horror movies.
Inspiration for the Work
Edvard Munch likely drew his inspiration for the work from multiple sources in his life. At the time that he painted the piece, he was living rather close to both a slaughterhouse and the insane asylum where his sister lived, and it is likely that the anxiety of the central figure and the gloominess of the orange, apocalyptic sky may be a reference to her bipolar disorder, or to mental illness in general.
The actual physical features of the strange humanoid creature in the painting could have also been inspired by mummies from Peru, at least one of which Munch may have viewed during an exposition in Paris that featured the corpses. The pose of apparent shock or overwhelm, with the hands placed on the sides of the head, can sometimes be on in these mummies. This theory may be unlikely, however, as it may be that Munch visited the exposition only after painting The Scream.
Munch himself said that he was inspired to create the painting one day as he was trudging through a path near a fjord, and felt a screaming pass “through nature,” a sort of primal shriek, and it appeared to him almost as if he had heard it with his ears. The sky, he wrote, was similar that day to the one that would be depicted in the painting. This strengthens the theory that the work is meant to depict basic human anxiety, a feeling of primal detachment and dread that comes with primitive fear.
History of the Painting
Different versions of The Scream have been stolen several times throughout the life of these works, notably once in 1994 and once in 2004. Both times, the works have suffered damage, but they remain in fairly good condition.
The Scream is one of the most expensive works of art ever to be sold, and was purchased in 2012 for US$119,922,500 by Leon Black, founder of Apollo Global Management.