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:

First intensive measurements of shallow cumulus clouds over the Inner Mongolia Grassland
An intensive radiosonde experiment was performed over the Inner Mongolia Grassland in the summer of 2014, and the findings constitute the first report of shallow cumulus clouds observations over this region.
Hidden secrets of Orion's clouds
This spectacular new image is one of the largest near-infrared high-resolution mosaics of the Orion A molecular cloud, the nearest known massive star factory, lying about 1350 light-years from Earth.
Clouds are impeding global warming... for now
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers have identified a mechanism that causes low clouds -- and their influence on Earth's energy balance -- to respond differently to global warming depending on their spatial pattern.
NASA looks at major Hurricane Matthew's winds, clouds
As Hurricane Matthew continues to crawl along the southeastern U.S.
Thin tropical clouds cool the climate
Thin clouds at about 5 km altitude are more ubiquitous in the tropics than previously thought and they have a substantial cooling effect on climate.
Fewer low clouds in the tropics
With the help of satellite data, ETH scientists have shown that low-level cloud cover in the tropics thins out as the earth warms.
Vision through the clouds
Poor weather can often make the operation of rescue helicopters a highly risky business, and sometimes even impossible.
Airplanes make clouds brighter
Clouds may have a net warming or cooling effect on climate.
Aerosols strengthen storm clouds, according to new study
An abundance of aerosol particles in the atmosphere can increase the lifespans of large storm clouds by delaying rainfall, making the clouds grow larger and live longer, and producing more extreme storms, according to new research from the University of Texas at Austin.
Swirling ammonia lies below Jupiter's thick clouds
Using radio waves, astronomers have been able to peer through Jupiter's thick clouds, gaining insights into the gas giant's atmosphere, a new study reports.

Related Clouds Reading:

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

Bias And Perception
How does bias distort our thinking, our listening, our beliefs... and even our search results? How can we fight it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas about the unconscious biases that shape us. Guests include writer and broadcaster Yassmin Abdel-Magied, climatologist J. Marshall Shepherd, journalist Andreas Ekström, and experimental psychologist Tony Salvador.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#514 Arctic Energy (Rebroadcast)
This week we're looking at how alternative energy works in the arctic. We speak to Louie Azzolini and Linda Todd from the Arctic Energy Alliance, a non-profit helping communities reduce their energy usage and transition to more affordable and sustainable forms of energy. And the lessons they're learning along the way can help those of us further south.