This finding will make art-lovers scream all over again.
Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” — a 1893 expressionist painting so famous it has its own emoji — contains a disturbing hidden message that art historians have now determined was written by the artist himself.
The pencil inscription reads: “Can only have been painted by a madman,” infrared scans have shown.
And though historians have long known about the phrase, small and hidden among the distorted brushstrokes that make up the howling figure, there’s been some speculation that it was graffitied by an observer, not the Norwegian artist.
But that mystery can now be put to bed, said Mai Britt Guleng curator of old masters and modern paintings at Norway’s National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, which owns the painting.
Guleng and her staff made the breakthrough discovery after comparing the handwriting in the inscription to the Norwegian artist’s diaries and letters.
“The writing is without a doubt Munch’s own,” she told the BBC. “The handwriting itself, as well as events that happened in 1895, when Munch showed the painting in Norway for the first time, all point in the same direction.”
The mysterious origins of the phrase help complete a sad picture: Munch created the painting, which has now become a universal symbol for mortal anxiety, just after his sister Laura was committed to an asylum with bipolar disorder.
Though the screaming figure doesn’t look like him, it’s believed to be influenced by his own experience of observing a blood red sky after being abandoned by two companions, seen in the background. In that moment, he was hit by a “gust of melancholy,” according to his diary.
After Munch unveiled the painting, reactions centered on his own mental health, rather than the painting itself.
The experts said it stands to reason that Munch wrote the “madman” inscription after struggling with the many critical reviews at the time. In 1908, he suffered a mental breakdown.
“It’s a combination of being ironic, but also showing his vulnerability,” Guleng told the Guardian. “He is actually taking this very seriously and he is hurt because there is a history of illness in his family, and he was very anxious, but he showed himself be marked by it.”