‘The Scream’ for sale: When it was silenced


Edvard Munch's painting 'The Scream" dated 1895 (lower left) pastel on board in the artist’s original frame . (HO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

The theft of another version, from the National Gallery of Norway, occurred in 1994, on the opening day of the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. Shortly after the crime, Washington Post art critic Paul Richard explained why the loss was such a great one. An excerpt:

On March 31, 1961, a little late as usual, Time magazine announced “Guilt and Anxiety” as a full-fledged U.S. trend. And the image on the cover was Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”

Because horror and amusement, much like hate and love, aren’t all that far apart, “The Scream,” though angst itself, is now often used for fun.

One strange virtue of that image is what Varnedoe described as its “compressed caricatural transmissibility.”

Indeed “The Scream” is everywhere. It shows up all the time — on shopping bags and greeting cards, on President Quayle T-shirts, in Charles Addams cartoons. On the Wall Productions of St. Louis is peddling a “Scream Giant Inflatable” 50 inches tall. The “Argghhh” of Charlie Brown, and the Macaulay Culkin poster for “Home Alone,” are takeoffs on “The Scream.”

Yet the image sheds its parodies. Look at it again. That figure on the Oslo bridge — its boneless body curving, its mouth agape, its hands against its ears — still howls its silent howl.

Is it man or woman, fleshed-out being or death’s-head, alien or earthling, a grown-up or a kid? That one-size-fits-all image is all of the above. There are other silent screams in art — the horse’s, for example, in Picasso’s painted “Guernica,” or the one on the Odessa steps in Eisenstein’s “Potemkin,” — but none has Munch’s strange carry. That how over the fjord is a snapshot from The Wasteland. It’s our secret self-portrait.

It is Edvard Munch’s as well.

The painting was recovered a few months later, undamaged, in a Norwegian hotel room.


View Photo Gallery: Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” became the most expensive work to ever sell at auction on Wednesday, going for $119.9 million. Take a look at the other expensive works that it surpassed.
Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.

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