A famous painting in Art history everyone should know about: The Scream

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18 June 2019

A famous painting in Art history everyone should know: The Scream

Let’s focus on another famous and astonishing painting: the symbol of the anxiety, an iconic haunting face that even has its own emoji 😱 The Scream.

Agathe Guibé

Let’s continue this series of articles about famous paintings everyone should know about!
After talking about the Mona Lisa stolen by an Italian carpenter, let’s focus on another famous and astonishing painting: the symbol of the anxiety, an iconic haunting face that even has its own emoji 😱

The Scream.

I am sure you have seen this masterpiece:

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Depicted by the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch in 1893, The Scream is the most famous representation of the modern man facing an existential crisis. The artist created five versions of this artwork but the one above is actually the most famous. However, the 1895 pastel-on-board version of the painting holds the record of the most expensive work of art sold at auction! In fact, the artwork was sold for more than US$106.5 million in May 2012.

undefinedThe Scream, pastel version from 1895


What is this painting about?


This painting has been created in a context where men were investigating the unconscious phenomena and the influence of childhood events on the causation of neurosis. Clear?


In simpler terms, at the end of the 19th century, famous authors and philosophers like Freud are starting to write about their inner-self and their conscience. With these influences, Edvard Munch, 30 years-old, depicted “The Scream”, that will later become the face of a new art movement: The Expressionism.

Originally, the title given by Edvard Munch was “Der Schrei der Natur” - “The Scream of Nature” in English. In fact, if nowadays we interpret this painting as an anxious man screaming, this is not what Edvard Munch intended first. The figure is actually putting his hands on his ears to block the “shriek” from nature, probably impressed by its power and its dominance.

The story beyond the painting is actually autobiographical: Munch created this masterpiece based on his own experience when at a critical stage of his life (he was a tormented person), he had a walk with two of his friends who are depicted in the background. According to him, when his friends had left him, he heard a terrible scream piercing through nature while walking. Scared and impressed by the shriek, he covered his ears to protect himself!


Ok, so the screaming face is Edvard Munch?



Yes and no. What makes this painting famous too is the fact that anyone can recognize themselves in this face. Indeed, Edvard Munch apparently did not intend to represent an individual scream: he chose to depict a featureless and un-gendered figure. The face can represent anyone who feels anxious and scared, and because of this non-identified face, the painting has been used a lot by the pop art culture. From Andy Warhol to Peter Brookes, the screaming face has proliferated into everyday life and has been adapted to serve other causes (like politics!).  😱

undefined”Apologizes to Munch” - Peter Brookes

The last fact about this masterpiece, it has been stolen not once… but twice! The first time in 1994 when the painting was exposed in the National Gallery in Oslo. Luckily, the thieves were arrested and the painting saved three months after. The second time was in 2004 when armed gunmen broke into the Munch Museum! The bad guys stole another version of the scream that will be found only two years after in 2006.


This painting might not be the happiest, the one that you want to hang above your bed but in my opinion, its story is really strong. It is one of these everlasting representations of our society and of the feeling of anxiety; and Edvard Munch was right, we can all recognize ourselves in this screaming expression!

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