COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) – The National Museum of Norway says that a small, barely visible sentence written in pencil in Edvard Munch’s 1893 masterpiece “The Scream” was written by the Norwegian painter himself.
The painting, showing an abandoned girl-like figure holding her head in her hands and her mouth open, has become a global icon for the expression of human anxiety. The phrase – “it could only have been painted by a madman” – was scrawled in the upper left corner.
The painting is being prepared to be exhibited in the new National Museum of Norway which will open in Oslo, the Norwegian capital, in 2022. In this sense, the canvas has been the subject of research and conservation.
“The writing is definitely Munch’s,” Mai Britt Guleng, a curator at the National Museum, said in a statement Monday, adding that it is compared to the painter’s own scribbles in diaries and letters.
“The writing itself, as well as the events that occurred in 1895, when Munch first showed the painting in Norway, all point in the same direction,” Guleng said.
The writing on the canvas was added after Munch completed the painting, but for years it has been a mystery, the museum said in a statement. The speculation has ranged from an act of vandalism by an outraged viewer to something written by Munch himself.
Guleng said the inscription was likely made “in 1895, when Munch first exhibited the painting.”
The painting at the time sparked public speculation about Munch’s state of mind. During a night of discussion in which the artist was present, a young medical student questioned Munch’s mental health and claimed that his work proved that he was not solid.
“It is likely that Munch added the inscription in 1895, or shortly after, in response to the judgment on his work,” the statement read.
Munch was deeply hurt by the allegations, returning to the incident over and over again in letters and diary entries. Both his father and sister suffered bouts of depression and Munch was finally hospitalized after a nervous breakdown in 1908, Guleng said.
The National Gallery was temporarily closed in 2019 to ensure a safe moving process to the new National Museum, which is currently under construction in central Oslo. The museum will display 400,000 objects ranging from ancient times to the present day and includes paintings, sculptures, drawings, textiles, furniture and architectural models.
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