SHARE
COPY LINK

EDVARD MUNCH

Weird clouds may have inspired Norwegian ‘The Scream’: scientists

The psychedelic clouds in Edvard Munch's iconic "The Scream" have alternatively been interpreted as a metaphor for mental anguish or a literal depiction of volcanic fallout.

Weird clouds may have inspired Norwegian 'The Scream': scientists
File photo: Terje Bendiksby/NTB scanpix

On Monday, scientists hypothesised that the Norwegian painter's inspiration may in fact have been rare clouds which form in cold places at high altitude.

The first version of “The Scream” was released in 1893. It depicts a dark humanlike figure clutching its head in apparent horror against the backdrop of a swirling, red-orange sky.

In 2004, American astronomers theorised that Munch had painted a sky brightly coloured by particle pollution from the 1883 Krakatoa volcanic eruption.

But the new paper, presented at a meeting of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna, said he more likely depicted a rare sighting of “mother-of-pearl” clouds over Oslo.

A volcanic outburst does not account for the “waviness” of Munch's clouds, Helene Muri, a researcher at the University of Oslo, told journalists in Vienna.

Furthermore, volcano-tinted sunsets tend to be common for several years after an outburst, “whereas Munch's scary vision was seemingly a one-time experience, the way he described it in his journal,” she said.

In his diary, Munch wrote of the sky turning suddenly blood red.

Mother-of-pearl or “nacreous” clouds, require unusual conditions to form very cold temperatures in the atmosphere, in a high altitude band of about 20-30 kilometres.

They tend to appear at high latitudes in winter.

Because they are thin, these clouds are typically not visible during daytime, but before sunrise or after sunset.

“We do know that there were mother-of-pearl clouds in the Oslo area in the late 19th century,” said Muri.

READ ALSO: Munch portrait seized in drug smuggler's flat

At least one scientist documented the phenomenon and wrote “they are so beautiful you could believe you are in another world”, she added.

Similar sightings of nacreous clouds over southeast Norway in 2014, and their striking resemblance to Munch's painting, is what sparked the latest research.

“Edvard Munch could well have been terrified when the sky all of a sudden turned 'bloodish red',” the researchers concluded.

“Hence, there is a high probability that it was an event of mother-of-pearl clouds which was the background for Munch's experience in nature, and for his iconic Scream.”

Muri conceded the latest was but “another hypothesis”.

“There are other hypotheses. But of course, we are natural scientists, we tend to look for answers in nature, whilst the psychologists have suggested it was inner torment that made Munch paint 'The Scream'.”

ART

Paul Gauguin’s ‘Mata Mua’ returns to Spain

One of French painter Paul Gauguin's most famous paintings, "Mata Mua", will return to a Madrid museum on Monday following an agreement between the Spanish government and its owner, who took it out of the country.

mata mua madrid
Toward the end of his life, Gauguin spent ten years in French Polynesia, where he completed some of his most famous artwork Painting: Paul Gaugin

The artwork had been on display for two decades at Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza museum but in 2020 when the institution closed because of the pandemic, the painting’s owner Carmen Thyssen moved it to Andorra where she currently lives.

Her decision to take “Mata Mua” to the microstate sandwiched between Spain and France raised fears she would remove other works from her collection which are on display at the museum.

“It is expected that the painting will arrive today,” a spokeswoman for the museum told AFP.

mata-mua_gauguin-madrid

In 1989, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza bought Mata Mua at the Sotheby’s auction in New York. Painting: Paul Gauguin

The artwork will go back on display to the public “a few days after” Thyssen signs a new agreement with the Spanish state for the lease of her collection, she added. The deal is expected to be signed on Wednesday.

Painted in 1892 in vivid, flat colours, “Mata Mua” depicts two women, one playing the flute and the other listening, set against a lush Tahitian landscape.

It is one of the stars of Thyssen’s collection of several hundred paintings which are on show at the museum, including works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Claude Monet.

Her collection had initially been displayed at the Madrid museum as part of a free loan agreement signed in February 2002 that was subsequently extended.

But in August 2021 Spain’s culture ministry announced it had reached an agreement with Thyssen to rent the collection from her for 15 years for €97.5 million ($111.5 million), with “preferential acquisition rights on all or part” of the works. The collection includes a Degas, a Hopper and a Monet.

Aside from housing her collection of works, the museum displays the collection of her late husband, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Swiss heir to a powerful industrial lineage who died in Spain in 2002.

The Spanish state bought his collection in 1993 from $350 million, according to the museum.

SHOW COMMENTS