Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra
  • Date of entry: Aug-14-1996
  • Last revised: Nov-18-2003


This well-known image has become one of the 20th century's most potent symbols of psychic agony. A lone emaciated figure halts on a bridge clutching his ears, his eyes and mouth open wide in a scream of anguish. Behind him a couple (his two "friends") are walking together in the opposite direction. Barely discernible in the swirling motion of a red-blood sunset and deep blue-black fjord, are tiny boats at sea, and the suggestion of town buildings.

The composition, colors and dramatic use of perspective, the undulating curves of the landscape and hollow figure personify alienation and anxiety. Munch described the event which took place on a trip to Ekebergsasen (view of Christiania in background) in his diaries: "I stood there trembling with fright and I felt a loud, unending scream piercing nature."


This last in a series of six paintings exhibited in Berlin in 1893 listed as a "Study for a Series Entitled 'Love' " (eventually to be incorporated into the "Frieze of Life" Series), is emotionally and stylistically the epitome of expressionist art with its gestural intensity and representational exaggeration of the landscape which mirror the inner nervous tension of the soul.

Munch wrote poetic texts to accompany the renderings of his sufferings. His own words provide the best commentary: "All art literature as well as music must be brought out with one's heart blood . . . . " "I inherited two of mankind's most dangerous enemies--the inheritance of consumption and insanity--disease and madness and death were the black angels standing by my cradle."

Munch adds a new dimension to the cathartic function of narrative art as method: "I have always worked best with my painting around me . . . when they were placed together a sound went through them right away and they became quite different than when they were separate. They became a symphony." [For Munch's notes see Bente Torjusen, Words and Images of Edvard Munch (Chelsea Green Publ. Co., Chelsea, Vt., 1986) and Edvard Munch (Editions Beyeler, Basel, 1965)]


This picture was done in 1893, and a lithograph version in 1895.