A tiny message hidden in Edvard Munch's famous painting "The Scream" was written by the artist himself, a new investigation of the work has found, finally resolving one of modern art's most enduring mysteries.
The message "Can only have been painted by a madman," scrawled and barely visible in the top left-hand corner of the painting, has been the subject of debate for decades and was widely believed to have been an act of vandalism by a viewer of the piece.
But extensive research by the National Museum of Norway has revealed that Munch wrote the phrase himself.
The Expressionist masterpiece is one of the most celebrated works of modern times, heralded as a timeless depiction of human anxiety. The subject's anguished face has become so familiar that it was recently given its own emoji.
Curators used infrared technology to analyze the message, which was added on top of the finished painting, comparing it with Munch's notes and letters and studying events around the time of the work's first public showing.
"The writing is without a doubt Munch's own," Mai Britt Guleng, the museum's curator, concluded. "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 work has been undergoing extensive conservation at the museum ahead of a public showing. It has rarely been exhibited since it was briefly stolen in 2004, and damage to the piece has become more apparent in recent years.
After its first public unveiling, some critics dismissed the unnerving painting, and there was frenzied discussion about Munch's mental state, lending credence to the idea that an outraged third party scribbled a damning review onto the work itself.
But curators said that reaction is probably what caused Munch to make the addition, with the artist upset about the critical response to the painting when he showed it in his hometown of Kristiania (now Oslo) for the first time.
"At a discussion night at the Students Association, where Munch is believed to have been present, the young medical student Johan Scharffenberg questioned Munch's mental health claiming that his paintings proved he was not of sound mind," the museum said. "It is likely that Munch added the inscription in 1895, or shortly after in response to the judgment on his work."
Curators added that Munch was hurt by the accusation and referred to it again in his own diary entries.
"The Scream" is understood to have been inspired by a walk Munch took through the city while in a state of mental and physical unease.
A pastel version of the painting fetched nearly $120 million from an anonymous buyer at a Sotheby's auction in New York in 2012 — at that time a world record for a work of art sold at auction.
Art history from the year you were born
1921: Picasso takes Cubism to the next level
1922: Edward Hopper immortalizes Depression-era diners
1923: Robert Henri pens ‘The Art Spirit’
1924: Man Ray’s surrealist instrument
1925: Frida Kahlo critically injured
1926: Georgia O’Keeffe’s ‘Black Iris’ blossoms
1927: Ansel Adams publishes portfolio of Precisionist prints
1928: John Steuart Curry pays homage to his rural roots
1929: Archibald J. Motley Jr. channels the Jazz Age
1930: Grant Wood paints Regionalist masterwork ‘American Gothic’
1931: Group f/64 formed
1932: Courtauld Institute of Art founded
1933: Black Mountain College opens in Asheville
1934: Publication of Irving Stone's ‘Lust for Life’
1935: Birth of the Federal Art Project
1936: Dorothea Lange snaps iconic Depression-era photograph
1937: Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ packs a political punch
1938: Cloisters Museum opens in Fort Tryon Park
1939: Grandma Moses debuts at MOMA
1940: Lascaux Cave paintings discovered
1941: National Gallery constructed in Washington D.C.
1942: Peggy Guggenheim opens Art of This Century gallery
1943: Monuments Men commissioned
1944: Arshile Gorky paints ‘The Liver is a C**k’s Comb’
1945: Allied Forces uncover priceless art in Altaussee salt mine
1946: George Ault perfects Precisionism
1947: Construction ceases on Hearst Castle
1948: Jean Dubuffet and the emergence of art brut
1949: Jackson Pollock makes a splash
1950: ‘Story of Art’ published
1951: Farnsworth House completed
1952: Helen Frankenthaler exhibits first painting
1953: Robert Rauschenberg pioneers Minimalism
1954: Jasper Johns paints the stars and stripes
1955: Clark Art Institute opens to the public
1956: Picasso reveals his creative process
1957: Charles Sheeler’s love affair with industrial America
1958: Rothko abandons Seagram commission
1959: Frank Stella rings death knell for Abstract Expressionism
1960: I.M. Pei’s Slayton House completed
1961: Matisse collage displayed upside down
1962: Andy Warhol immortalizes Campbell’s soup cans
1963: ‘Mona Lisa’ exhibited for the first time in the United States
1964: Time Magazine coins the phrase ‘Op Art’
1965: Max’s Kansas City opens in New York City
1966: Robert Venturi bashes modern architecture
1967: Diane Arbus exhibits at MoMA
1968: Valerie Solanas shoots Andy Warhol
1969: Duchamp’s final work unveiled
1970: Robert Smithson explores environmental art
1971: Linda Nochlin’s commentary on women artists
1972: ‘Ways of Seeing’ premieres
1973: Whitney Biennial introduces new format
1974: Judy Chicago begins work on ‘The Dinner Party’
1975: Marina Abramović pushes the performance art envelope
1976: Anselm Kiefer wrestles with Germany’s past
1977: Louis Kahn’s Yale Center for British Art opens
1978: Eames House earns AIA award
1979: Anthony Blunt outed as a Soviet spy
1980: Annie Liebowitz takes final photo of John Lennon
1981: Death of Francesca Woodman
1982: Mary Boone proclaimed queen of New York's art scene
1983: Christo and Jean Claude wrap Biscayne Bay islands
1984: Frederick James pens seminal Marxist essay
1985: Andy Warhol digitizes Debbie Harry
1986: Keith Haring launches Pop Shop
1987: Menil Collection opens in Houston
1988: Death of Jean-Michel Basquiat
1989: Andres Serrano's art sparks Supreme Court debate
1990: Gardner Museum heist
1991: Damien Hirst shocks with first shark sculpture
1992: 'Sister Wendy's Odyssey'
1993: First Outsider Art Fair
1994: Kara Walker exhibits at New York Drawing Center
1995: Art embraces the internet
1996: Grove 'Dictionary of Art' published
1997: Robert Colescott chosen to exhibit at the Venice Biennial
1998: Maria Altmann files for return of family Klimt portrait
1999: Venice Biennial recognizes video installation
2000: Takashi Murakami articulates his Superflat theory
2001: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater saved from collapse
2002: Earliest appearance of Banksy’s ‘Girl With a Red Balloon’
2003: Dia Beacon opens
2004: The Met celebrates Matisse
2005: Christo and Jeanne-Claude take on New York City
2006: Norman Rockwell painting rediscovered
2007: Feminist art takes center stage
2008: ‘30 Americans’ showcases important Black artists
2009: A new blue
2010: Smithsonian censors David Wojnarowicz
2011: Activist artist Ai WeiWei arrested
2012: Munch’s 'The Scream' sets auction record for pastel
2013: Instagram captures a new generation of art aficionados
2014: Georgia O'Keeffe sets new auction high for woman artist
2015: Lost work by Rembrandt rediscovered
2016: Guerilla Girls shine light on gender inequality
2017: Sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Salvator Mundi’ shatters records
2018: Obama portraits unveiled
2019: Jeff Koons’ 'Rabbit' breaks auction record for a living artist
2020: Confederate statues removed from Capitol Hill
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