X-rays reveal the key to preserving Edvard Munch’s The Scream

Edvard Munch's 1910 version of <em>The Scream</em> shows signs of degradation. New synchrotron radiation analysis provides a key to its preservation.

Enlarge / Edvard Munch’s
1910 version of The Scream shows signs of degradation. New
synchrotron radiation analysis provides a key to its preservation.
(credit: Edvard Munch / Aurich Lawson)

Edvard Munch’s The Scream is one of
the most iconic paintings of the modern era, inspiring silkscreen
prints by Andy Warhol, the killer’s mask in the 1996 film Scream, and
the appearance of an alien race known as The
Silence
in Doctor Who, among other pop culture tributes. But
the canvas is showing alarming signs of degradation. That damage is
not the result of exposure to light, but humidity—specifically,
from the breath of museum visitors, perhaps as they lean in to take
a closer look at the master’s brushstrokes. That’s the conclusion
of a new
study
in the journal Science Advances by an international team
of scientists hailing from Belgium, Italy, the US, and Brazil.

There are actually several versions of The Scream, each unique:
two paintings—one painted in 1893, and another version painted
around 1910—plus two pastels, a number of lithographic prints,
and a handful of drawings and sketches. The inspiration for the
painting was a particularly spectacular sunset that the artist
witnessed while out for a walk. Munch
noted the incident
in a January 22, 1892 diary entry:

One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side
and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out
over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood
red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that
I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as
actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream.

Some
astronomers
believe this sunset was likely
an after-effect
of the 1883 eruption of Mount Krakatoa in
Indonesia; reports of similarly intense sunsets were made in
several parts of the Western Hemisphere during several months in
1883 and 1884. Other scholars dismiss this notion, arguing that
Munch was not known for painting literal renderings of things he
had seen. An alternative
explanation
is that the red skies were the result of nacreous
clouds common to that particular latitude. But the spot where Munch
most likely witnessed the sunset has been identified: a road
overlooking Oslo from the hill of Ekeberg.

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Source: FS – All – Science – News
X-rays reveal the key to preserving Edvard Munch’s The
Scream