What a scream!

“The Scream” by Edvard Munch is the quintessential expression of angst

There’s been much discussion of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) in our house the past several days. We’re all fascinated by “The Scream” —  even more so now that one of four versions of the inconic work, an 1895 pastel on board piece, has been sold at auction for $119,922,500 by Norwegian businessman Peter Olsen. I was thrilled to learn, through reporting by NPR, that proceeds will “go toward the establishment of a new museum, art center and hotel in Norway.”

“The Scream,” which features a figure standing on a bridge clutching hands to face with mouth wide open, is regarded by many as the quintessential expression of human anguish. There are four versions of “The Scream” — and three are housed in museums in Norway. The Munch Museet in Oslo is a good place to start if you’re eager to learn more about all things Edvard Munch. My hubby first enjoyed Munch’s works while visiting the Munch Museet during college travels.

The Munch Museet website offers a Munch biography and timeline, a list of places the world over that exhibit Munch works (including seven sites in the U.S.), an online gallery of Munch works, pictures of art conservationsists restoring both “The Scream” and “The Madonna,” and Munch for kids musings. Check out “The Scream” theme birthday party complete with “The Scream” birthday cake. (Our recent birthday girl Jennifer suggested cakes customized to picture the birthday child as the screamer.)

I’m particularly interested in exploring the life and times of Munch given reports of mental illness in his family (I’m writing about art and mental illness during May as part of National Mental Health Month). I’ve read that Munch had a sister with schizophrenia, and Munch himself documented his struggles with depression.

The Munch Museet timeline notes that Munch was a “resident at various clinics due to nervous problems and misuse of alcohol” during 1905 (the same year he had a successful exhibition in Prague), adding that he had “a nervous breakdown in Copenhagen” and admitted himself to a clinic in 1908.

Folks who like to draw their own conclusions can consider the words of Munch collected in a book edited by J. Gill Holland — “The Private Journals of Edvard Munch: We Are Flames Which Pour Out of the Earth.” Also the following articles that lend insight into Munch’s mind and masterpieces:

  • The Life of Edvard Munch by Marit Lande. Published online by the Museet Museum in Oslo.
  • Mental Illness and Creativity: A Neurological View of “The Tortured Artist” by Adrienne Sussman. Published in the Fall 2007 issue of the Stanford Journal of Neuroscience.
  • Edvard Munch: Beyond the Scream by Arthur Lubow. Published in the March 2006 issue of Smithsonian magazine.

Grown-ups can read more about artists and mental illness in Kay Jamison Redfield’s “Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and Artistic Temperament.” If you’re eager to read up on the art of Edvard Munch with your kids, consider Jim Whiting’s “Edvard Munch” (pictured above) or Jose Maria Faerna’s “Munch Cameo” (pictured to the right).

If you’re wondering why our family is so fascinated by the works of Munch, consider my reaction to that last book I mentioned — picturing an old-fashioned cameo pin inset with the face of Munch’s famous screamer. Enough said.

— Lynn

Note: Find information about mental health at websites for Mental Health America and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Coming up: Art meets Cinco de Mayo, Arizona playwright tackles teen depression, The fine art of Mother’s Day


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