Edvard Munch. The Scream. 1895; signed 1896. Lithograph, composition: 13 15/16 × 10" (35.4 × 25.4 cm); sheet: 20 11/16 × 15 7/8" (52.5 × 40.3 cm). Matthew T. Mellon Fund

“I felt the great scream in nature.”

Edvard Munch

For Edvard Munch, 1893 was a year of screams. In the fall, the Norwegian artist produced two versions of The Scream, his now iconic image of personal and universal anguish.1 “You know my picture, The Scream?” he later wrote. “I was being stretched to the limit—nature was screaming in my blood—I was at a breaking point.”2 The same year, Munch painted The Storm. Set in a coastal village south of Kristiania (now Oslo), where the artist spent many of his summers, the canvas depicts a windswept landscape in which several women stand with their hands pressed against their faces in the same manner as the tormented figure in The Scream. Common to both compositions is a keen interest in the relationship between inward and outward realities. In The Scream, the figure’s silent shriek seems to reverberate through the undulating streaks of brilliant pigment that define the surrounding hills, bay, and sky. Likewise, the gusts of air that sweep across the shoreline in The Storm appear to be at once physical and metaphysical, atmospheric and psychic. In each case, Munch poses a question that he would pursue until his death in 1944: To what extent can artists convey their innermost thoughts and feelings using lines, forms, and colors?

By 1893, Munch had contemplated this question for over a decade. Following a difficult childhood in which his mother and sister died of tuberculosis and he himself was often ill, the teenage Munch studied to become an engineer at his father’s urging. Despite excelling in mathematics, physics, and chemistry, it was technical drawing that thrilled him. Eventually, he left the professional school where he had been enrolled, writing in his diary in 1880, “I have decided to become an artist.”3 Then living in Kristiania, Munch enrolled at the Royal School of Art and Design and soon began to show his paintings alongside the city’s small but dynamic avant-garde. Travels outside of Norway followed, allowing Munch to participate in international exhibitions from Belgium to France to Germany while immersing himself in the art of his predecessors and contemporaries at museums, galleries, studios, and academies throughout Europe. “Here I am in Paris,” the artist wrote to his aunt during one such trip. “I think I’ll go to the Louvre and the Salon today,”4 he added, referring to the French national art museum and annual art exhibition, respectively. While in Paris, Munch relished his encounters with the works of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Paul Gaugin, Vincent van Gogh, Georges Seurat, and others.

It was in France in late 1889 and early 1890 that Munch, grieving his father’s death in Norway, outlined his artistic convictions in a passionate manifesto. Art, he declared, should strive to portray subjective experiences—experiences of the most profound joy and pain, the most intense pleasure and sorrow. “Interiors should no longer be painted, no people reading and women knitting,” he wrote, dismissing the late-19th-century taste for neat, tidy pictures of neat, tidy sitting rooms. “They should be living people who breathe and feel, suffer and love.”5 The representation of “living people,” Munch believed, would resonate with viewers who felt alienated by modern, urban life. “People would understand the holy, the powerful in this and they would take off their hat as if in a church,” he predicted. “I want to depict a series of such pictures.”6 The artist embarked on this series right away, producing a web of interrelated works that he eventually would refer to as “The Frieze of Life.” Returning continuously to select subjects—embracing couples, alluring women, despondent men—Munch sought to delineate the course of romantic love as he saw it, from desire to despair.

Printmaking was vital to Munch’s Frieze of Life, and to his artistic practice more broadly. He produced his first print, Puberty (The Young Model), in 1894, as artists around the world were developing new printmaking techniques and revisiting existing ones. Munch would do both during his career, ultimately creating over 750 distinct graphic compositions through an array of processes.7 Like his peers, Munch was attracted to the possibility of generating multiple printed impressions from a single matrix: a physical surface, such as a metal plate, a wooden block, or a lithographic stone, that transfers ink to paper. The Frieze of Life, he realized, could reach a wider audience through prints than through paintings. Moreover, moving between mediums and materials allowed Munch to continually repeat, revise, and reimagine his favorite subjects, articulating the ever-shifting emotions that he considered central to art and life. In a lithographic rendition of The Scream from 1895, for instance, Munch abandoned the screeching hues of his other versions in pastel, oil, tempera, and crayon in favor of simple black stripes. Somber and stark, these marks accentuate the visual meld between the figure and the barren landscape beyond, a quality underscored by the handwritten caption below the image: “I felt the great scream in nature.” For Munch, this was the premise of all great art—“I felt.”

Annemarie Iker, independent scholar, 2020

  1. See Ann Temkin, The Scream: Edvard Munch (New York, NY: The Museum of Modern Art, 2012).

  2. Edvard Munch quoted in Sue Prideaux, Edvard Munch: Behind the Scream (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005), 167.

  3. Munch quoted in Prideaux, Edvard Munch: Behind the Scream, 55.

  4. Ibid., 70-71.

  5. Edvard Munch quoted in Arne Egum, “The Theme of Death,” in Edvard Munch: Symbols and Images (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1978), 154-155.

  6. Ibid., 155.

  7. See Elizabeth Prelinger, “Metal, Stone, and Wood: Matrices of Meaning in Munch’s Graphic Work,” in Edvard Munch: The Modern Life of the Soul, ed. Kynaston McShine (New York, NY: The Museum of Modern Art, 2006).

Wikipedia entry
Edvard Munch ( MUUNK, Norwegian: [ˈɛ̀dvɑɖ ˈmʊŋk] ; 12 December 1863 – 23 January 1944) was a Norwegian painter. His 1893 work, The Scream, has become one of Western art's most acclaimed images. His childhood was overshadowed by illness, bereavement and the dread of inheriting a mental condition that ran in the family. Studying at the Royal School of Art and Design in Kristiania (today's Oslo), Munch began to live a bohemian life under the influence of the nihilist Hans Jæger, who urged him to paint his own emotional and psychological state ('soul painting'); from this emerged his distinctive style. Travel brought new influences and outlets. In Paris, he learned much from Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, especially their use of color. In Berlin, he met the Swedish dramatist August Strindberg, whom he painted, as he embarked on a major series of paintings he would later call The Frieze of Life, depicting a series of deeply-felt themes such as love, anxiety, jealousy and betrayal, steeped in atmosphere. The Scream was conceived in Kristiania. According to Munch, he was out walking at sunset, when he 'heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature'. The painting's agonized face is widely identified with the angst of the modern person. Between 1893 and 1910, he made two painted versions and two in pastels, as well as a number of prints. One of the pastels would eventually command the fourth highest nominal price paid for a painting at auction. As his fame and wealth grew, his emotional state remained insecure. He briefly considered marriage, but could not commit himself. A mental breakdown in 1908 forced him to give up heavy drinking, and he was cheered by his increasing acceptance by the people of Kristiania and exposure in the city's museums. His later years were spent working in peace and privacy. Although his works were banned in Nazi-occupied Europe, most of them survived World War II, securing him a legacy.
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Getty record
Munch, one of the most noted Norwegian artists, was concerned with the expressive representation of emotions and personal relationships in his work. He was associated with the international development of Symbolism during the 1890s and recognized as a major influence on Expressionism. His early work was conventionally naturalistic; by 1884, he belonged to the avant-garde circle of the painter Christian Krøhg. During stays in Paris between 1889 and1892 Munch was influenced by the symbolists, van Gogh, and, above all, Gauguin; it was during this time that he established his characteristic nervous linear style. An exhibition of more than 50 of Munch's work at the Berlin Kunstlerverein (Artists' Union) in 1892 was so scandalous that it was closed after a week with the repercussions leading to the formation of the Berlin Sezession in 1899. Much of the next ten years was spent in Berlin associating with writers such as Richard Dehmel and August Strindberg and creating works featuring his recurrent themes of sexual awareness, illness, jealousy, and insanity. These intense and disturbing works reflected not only Symbolist preoccupations but Munch's difficulties stemming from his own traumatic childhood during which his mother and sister died and his father nearly went mad. While in Berlin he produced his first prints, with lithographs and woodcuts becoming equally important to his paintings. In 1908, he suffered a nervous breakdown and in 1909 he returned permanently to Norway, deliberately abandoning his disturbing themes as part of his recovery. His work became more outgoing, his palette brighter, and his themes more optimistic although his self-portraits retained their earlier intensity. After 1916 Munch became increasingly reclusive and his work regained some of its earlier urgency. He lived at Ekely outside Oslo; when he died he left over 20,000 works to the city. During Munch's lifetime there were many exhibitions of his work in Oslo, Prague, Stockholm, and German cities. Comment on works: psychological Landscapes, genre
Norwegian, Scandinavian
Artist, Etcher, Lithographer, Woodcutter, Graphic Artist, Painter
Edvard Munch, E. Munch, Ėdvard Munk, Edward Munch, אדווארד מונק, eduard munch, edv. munch, edward munch, Munch
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License


73 works online



  • MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art Flexibound, 408 pages
  • MoMA Now: Highlights from The Museum of Modern Art—Ninetieth Anniversary Edition Hardcover, 424 pages
  • The Scream: Edvard Munch Exhibition catalogue, Paperback, 24 pages
  • Edvard Munch: The Modern Life of the Soul Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 256 pages
  • Edvard Munch: The Modern Life of the Soul Exhibition catalogue, Paperback, 256 pages
  • The Masterworks of Edvard Munch Exhibition catalogue, Paperback, pages
  • Edvard Munch: A Selection of His Prints from American Collections Paperback, pages
  • Edvard Munch Clothbound, pages

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