The Sky in Edvard Munch’s The Scream

Fred Prata Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom

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Alan Robock Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, New Jersey

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Richard Hamblyn Birkbeck College, University of London, London, United Kingdom

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Abstract

The Scream is a well-known painting by Edvard Munch (1863–1944). The Norwegian word used by Munch is “skrik,” which can be translated as “shriek” or “scream.” The Scream may be of interest to meteorologists because of the quite striking representation of the sky. It has been suggested that the dramatic red-colored sky was inspired by a volcanic sunset seen by Munch after the Krakatau eruption in 1883 and by a sighting of stratospheric nacreous clouds, and also that it is part of the artist’s expression of a scream from nature. The evidence for the volcanic sunset theory and Munch’s psyche are briefly reviewed. We provide support that Munch’s inspiration may have been from a sighting of nacreous clouds, observable from southern Norway during the winter months. We show that the colors and patterns of the sky in Munch’s painting match the sunset colors better if nacreous clouds are present. Their sudden appearance around and after sunset creates an impressive and dramatic effect. By comparing the color content of photographs and paintings of regular sunsets, volcanic sunsets, and nacreous clouds after sunset with the color content of the sky in The Scream, the match is better with nacreous clouds present. If this conjecture is correct, then Munch’s sky in The Scream represents one of the earliest visual documentations of a nacreous cloud display.

© 2018 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Fred Prata, fred_prata@hotmail.com

Abstract

The Scream is a well-known painting by Edvard Munch (1863–1944). The Norwegian word used by Munch is “skrik,” which can be translated as “shriek” or “scream.” The Scream may be of interest to meteorologists because of the quite striking representation of the sky. It has been suggested that the dramatic red-colored sky was inspired by a volcanic sunset seen by Munch after the Krakatau eruption in 1883 and by a sighting of stratospheric nacreous clouds, and also that it is part of the artist’s expression of a scream from nature. The evidence for the volcanic sunset theory and Munch’s psyche are briefly reviewed. We provide support that Munch’s inspiration may have been from a sighting of nacreous clouds, observable from southern Norway during the winter months. We show that the colors and patterns of the sky in Munch’s painting match the sunset colors better if nacreous clouds are present. Their sudden appearance around and after sunset creates an impressive and dramatic effect. By comparing the color content of photographs and paintings of regular sunsets, volcanic sunsets, and nacreous clouds after sunset with the color content of the sky in The Scream, the match is better with nacreous clouds present. If this conjecture is correct, then Munch’s sky in The Scream represents one of the earliest visual documentations of a nacreous cloud display.

© 2018 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Fred Prata, fred_prata@hotmail.com
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