Mysterious message on The Scream was written by Edvard Munch himself, experts reveal

Painted by a madman: Mysterious message on The Scream was written by Edvard Munch himself, experts reveal

Mysterious message on The Scream was written by Edvard Munch himself, experts reveal Photo

Barely visible in the top left-hand corner of one of the worlds most famous paintings are the words, "Could only have been painted by a madman!" For years, curators and art historians have wondered who wrote it.

After decades of debate, experts confirmed this week that the artist himself, Edvard Munch, is responsible for the inscription on his most famous work, "The Scream." 

According to The National Museum of Norway, a Danish art critic first noticed the inscription during an exhibition in Copenhagen in 1904 — thinking that a member of the public had written it as an act of vandalism. 

New infrared scans, which dont impact the painting, have shown that Munch left the tiny sentence on the corner of the painting, written in pencil after the work was already complete. The museum analyzed the handwriting and compared it to Munchs diaries and letters from the time.  

"The writing is without a doubt Munchs own," said Mai Britt Guleng, curator at the National Museum. "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 museum confirmed the inscriptions origins while the painting is undergoing extensive conservation in preparation for its installation in Oslo, Munchs home city, next year.  

"The writing has always been visible to the naked eye, but its been very difficult to interpret," said Thierry Ford, paintings conservator at the National Museum. "Through a microscope, you can see that the pencil lines are physically on top of the paint and have been applied after the painting was finished." 

After "The Scream" debuted in 1895, Munch received sharp criticism, including from the art community, and a medical student, Johan Scharffenberg, who questioned his mental state during a debate at which Munch was present. 

Henrik Grosch, then director of the Norwegian Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, wrote that Munchs paintings showed that one can no longer "consider Munch a serious man with a normal brain."

"The theory is that Munch wrote this after hearing Scharffenbergs judgment on his mental health, sometime in or after 1895," said Guleng of the inscription. "It is reasonable to assume that he did it quite soon after, either during or following the exhibition."

The Expressionist painting is now widely celebrated in modern times, considered an enduring representation of anxiety and anguish. In his diary, Munch wrote that the painting was inspired by "a gust of melancholy."

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