Nav: Home

The Scream: What were those colorful, wavy clouds in Edvard Munch's famous painting?

July 23, 2018

What inspired the iconic red-and-yellow sky in The Scream, the painting by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch that sold for a record $119.9 million in 2012? Some say it was a volcanic sunset after the 1883 Krakatau eruption. Others think the wavy sky shows a scream from nature.

But scientists at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, University of Oxford and University of London suggest that nacreous, or "mother of pearl," clouds which can be seen in southern Norway inspired the dramatic scene in the painting. Their study is published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

"What's screaming is the sky and the person in the painting is putting his or her hands over their ears so they can't hear the scream," said Alan Robock, study co-author and distinguished professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers-New Brunswick. "If you read what Munch wrote, the sky was screaming blood and fire."

There are four known versions of The Scream: an 1893 tempera on cardboard; an 1893 crayon on cardboard; an 1895 pastel on cardboard that billionaire Leon Black bought for nearly $120 million at auction; and a tempera on hard cardboard thought to have been painted in 1910.

Iridescent light from below the horizon illuminates polar stratospheric clouds, also known as nacreous clouds. Robock said the sky colors and patterns in Munch's paintings match sunset colors better when nacreous clouds are present versus other scenarios.

The study builds on a 2017 study that also proposed nacreous clouds. The new study provides a more detailed and scientific analysis of Munch's paintings, focusing on photographs of volcanic sunsets and nacreous clouds and analyzing the color content and cloud patterns. If the new analysis is correct, Munch's art is one of the earliest visual documentations of nacreous clouds, the study says.

Robock and others have previously proposed that a volcanic sunset inspired the painting, and he still thinks that's possible.

"We don't know if Munch painted exactly what he saw," Robock said. "He could have been influenced by the Krakatau sunset and nacreous clouds and combined them."
-end-
The study was peer-reviewed and accepted in January 2018 and was published online and in print this month

Rutgers University

Related Clouds Articles:

Life's building blocks may have formed in interstellar clouds
An experiment shows that one of the basic units of life -- nucleobases -- could have originated within giant gas clouds interspersed between the stars.
Conceptual model can explain how thunderstorm clouds bunch together
Understanding how the weather and climate change is one of the most important challenges in science today.
Meteors help Martian clouds form
Researchers think they've solved the long-standing mystery of how Mars got all of its clouds.
We've been thinking of how ice forms in cirrus clouds all wrong
Pores in atmospheric particles allow water to condense, leading to the formation of ice crystals in humid but unsaturated air.
Scientists explain formation of lunar dust clouds
Physicists from the Higher School of Economics and Space Research Institute have identified a mechanism explaining the appearance of two dusty plasma clouds resulting from a meteoroid that impacted the surface of the Moon.
More Clouds News and Clouds Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Erasing The Stigma
Many of us either cope with mental illness or know someone who does. But we still have a hard time talking about it. This hour, TED speakers explore ways to push past — and even erase — the stigma. Guests include musician and comedian Jordan Raskopoulos, neuroscientist and psychiatrist Thomas Insel, psychiatrist Dixon Chibanda, anxiety and depression researcher Olivia Remes, and entrepreneur Sangu Delle.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...