One of the most enduring mysteries in the art world has finally been solved with news that the inscription on the back of Edvard Munch’s The Scream was written by the artist.
Munch painted ‘The Scream’ in 1893, and it soon became one of the most iconic artworks of all time. From the moment Munch stepped away from the canvas, The Scream has taken on a life of its own. Much of the enduring fascination relates to a mysterious inscription on the top left-hand corner of the artwork.
The words, “Can only have been painted by a madman“, are visible, and for years the debate has raged regarding the author of the inscription.
For much of the 20th-century, opinion remained split on who may be responsible. Some art historians believed the words belonged to Munch, while others were sure the work was vandalised while on show in a gallery.
Finally, the mystery has been solved with curators at The National Museum of Norway confirming the words were produced by Munch. Infrared scans allowed museum employees to investigate the handwriting, analysing it compared to Munch’s diaries and letters.
“The writing is without a doubt Munch’s own,” Mai Britt Guleng, curator at the National Museum, said in a statement Monday.
“The handwriting itself, as well as events that happened in 1895, when Munch showed the painting in Norway for the first time, all point in the same direction,” Guleng said.
This confirmation by the Museum finally clears up one of the biggest mysteries in art history. “It’s been examined now very carefully, letter by letter, and word by word, and it’s identical in every way to Munch’s handwriting,” explained Guleng. “There is no more doubt.”
The mysterious words are only a small part of The Scream mythology, with the painting boasting a rich history of controversy. In 1994, The Scream was stolen from a Norwegian art museum before being retrieved by British detectives in an undercover operation.
The Scream’s influence extends well beyond the art world, seeping into fashion, film and the tech space. The famous artwork was part of a capsule collaboration between Vans and MoMA, which highlighted celebrated artists from MoMA’s collection. The Era Sneakers feature an allover print of The Scream.
Meanwhile, the face was the inspiration behind the Scream mask from the 1990s horror film franchise and is also the basis of the ‘scream’ emoji 😱😱😱 designed by Apple to mimic Edvard Munch’s iconic painting The Scream.
Despite previously hanging in MoMa, the painting is being exhibited at the new National Museum of Norway due to open in Oslo, the Norwegian capital, in 2022.