Edvard Munch (1863-1944) was a Norwegian artist best known for his iconic work The Scream, which has become a staple of Western culture for the past 120 years for symbolising not only personal depression and horror, but – in a general sense – modern man’s angst at the direction in which human society is developing. It has adorned many a student’s bedroom wall and indeed several books on weighty subjects in the field of human psychology and mental illness.
Not everyone know that Munch actually created four specific versions of the piece and also several lithographs.
Two were pastels (1893 and 1895). The second of these – the most colourful version of the four – was sold for just under US$120 million including commission in 2nd May 2012 and remains the only one that is not held by a Norwegian museum. The earlier version was stolen from the National Gallery in Oslo in 1994 but was later recovered.
As it happens, Munch’s 1910 painting was stolen from The Munch Museum in Oslo in 2004 and was recovered two years later, albeit slightly damaged.
After studying at the Royal School of Art and Design in Christiania, Munch was first influenced by naturalism and then impressionism but then, after a period of association with the nihilist Hans Jægar (“a passion to destroy is a creative passion”) and bohemianism, the formerly well-mannered and reserved Munch developed a lifelong propensity for drinking, brawling and eventually cynicism towards human relationships. Further experimentation led Munch to conclude that the Impressionist idiom – including that of Post-Impressionism – failed to allow sufficient expression and he began to explore his own emotional and psychological state of mind. This set him upon a course that defined his work for the remainder of his life.
Since the expiration of its copyright period, The Scream has been plundered, adapted, parodied innumerable times, including by Andy Warhol, and references have been made to it in many movies and television series and dramas. It was also featured on the cover of some editions of Arthur Janov’s The Primal Scream (famously taken up by John Lennon in the period after he left The Beatles) and has been adopted by patient resource groups as a symbol of trigeminal neuralgia, one of the most painful conditions in human existence.
Yesterday afternoon I watched the BT Sport live television coverage of Wasps’ 42-10, six-try, demolition of the Harlequins at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry. Eight days previously – despite four consecutive defeats to that point – Quins had sat temporarily in third position in the Aviva Premiership after just besting Leicester Tigers at the Stoop. Now we are sixth and our chances of making the top four and the Premiership play-offs seem to be receding into the distance …