Edvard Munch’s best-known work, The Scream, is one of the most disturbing, thought-provoking, and famous paintings in modern art history.
Second only to the Mona Lisa in its popularity; its depiction of an angst-ridden man standing on Ekeberg Hill overlooking the Oslofjord (“I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature,” Munch would later explain) has been analysed to death, parodied to high heaven, and currently hangs in a dimly-lit room inside the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
One of four versions of The Scream, this particular on-loan lithograph (with additional colour, hand-painted by Munch) is given no greater credence over the other 49 works on view. There’s no extra security, no barriers or glass case to protect it, either. Indeed, if you didn’t go specifically looking for it, you might miss it.
Perhaps it’s the fame the piece has garnered since its creation in 1895 that creates such exceptional allure. The picture itself is no larger in height and width than this very newspaper. And you can literally go nose-to-nose with this £50 million-valued Scream if you so wish.
Of the expressionist’s lesser-known works, there is much to admire. A struggling painter may always have a sense of melancholy – Munch was a heavy-drinking brawler who almost lost his mind entirely. But when you consider how deeply his life was touched by death (Sick Child), women (Madonna), and disquiet (Anxiety); whether each picture is produced in pastel, lithograph, paint or wood-print – each version gives you a deep, and different perspective on each subject.
A surprising highlight of the exhibition looks at how Munch inspired Scottish painters, and, how he provoked many a colourful exchange amongst readers of The Scotsman’s letters page when his first solo show came to the Capital in 1931. In reply to some critics, a Munch defender (rightly) stated that modern art does not require the public’s praise.
Indeed, as one little girl put it – when asked what she liked most about the exhibition in the Comments Book – “the green circles”, meaning the benign, fluorescent coloured lighting on the gallery’s floor. Which just goes to show: beauty is most definitely in the eye of the beholder.
Run ends 23 September