Some point last year, high on the giddy delights of being in another postcode and in a secondhand bookshop, I bought a catalogue for the 1992-93 Edvard Munch exhibition at the London National Gallery. I had no idea that there had been one — and you simply can’t have enough catalogues about him, even if sometimes they come with bonus Tracey Emin. This one had a clipping from the Daily Torygraph review by Richard Dorment tucked inside (spoiler: he “loathed it”):

“[W]e long for some explanation as to the simply appalling physical condition of many of the pictures on view. A larger number look as though they have spent several winters exposed to the elements on some Norwegian fjord.”

There’s reason for this. Munch used to leave his pictures outside. In the elements.

This might explain the birdshit or white paint splashed on one of the versions of The Scream.

The ScreamThe story of the genesis of The Scream is well-known (I’ll wait) and it was first shown in Berlin. It wasn’t until October 1895 that the painting was shown in Norway, at an art shop in Blomqvist. The imagery in the exhibition shocked many of the audience and a medical student, Johan Scharffenberg, questioned Munch’s mental health, especially Self-Portrait with a Cigarette (1895). When the painting was shown in 1904 in Copenhagen, the graffiti “Kan kun være malet af en gal Mand” [“Could only have been painted by a madman!”] was noticed one the painting.

Everyone a critic.

The Nasjonalmuseet, which owns the painting, have now taken an infrared photo to look more closely at the handwriting and have identified the hand behind the text, which is on top of the paint. They have declared it to be by…


Apparently this is what used to be thought, but art historian Gerd Woll had doubts in 2008.

Remember, the setting for the painting is a road above the sanatorium where Laura Munch was incarcerated, and Munch’s father, Christian Munch — and his father Edvard Storm Munch — both suffered from melancholy. The painting hints of his father’s death. The student, as it were, struck a nerve. Munch was a heavy drinker, never married, was tormented and stalked by Thulla Larsen, leading to him being shot in thehand, possibly a self-inflected wound. In 1908, he checked into Dr Daniel Jacobson’s clinic in Copenhagen.

Many congratulations to curator Mai Britt Guleng for confirming the hunch with infrared, but I am surprised that it had not been photographed by that means before. But presumably — and this is me being cynical as well as excited — it was timed for the opening of the new Nasjonalmuseet, now postponed to next year.

But The Scream keeps giving.

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