Born in Christiania, present-day Oslo (Norway) in 1893, Munch soon joined the wave of the Bohemian movement, a reactionary response to social organization, with strong opposition to the bourgeoisie and rigid prevailing morality.
he studied engineering until 1880, when he began taking classes at the local Drawing School
Around 1885 he travels to Paris, where he attends an important Impressionist exhibition that brings together, among other renowned artists, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Pissarro and Seurat.
In 1889, on a scholarship from the Norwegian government, he moved to Saint Cloud, on the outskirts of Paris. Here his style will have a break, coming into contact with the work of Wishder, Bocklin, Gauguin and Van Gogh.
In 1892 he exhibited at the Berlin Artists' Circle. Within such a conservative society, Munch's revolutionary work causes strong controversy, and the exhibition is lifted just a week after its premiere. However, so much repercussion would benefit the artist, that he makes new exhibitions throughout the entire German territory.
His third period in the French capital will be marked by the definitive assimilation of the style of artists such as Gauguin and Emile Bernard. He adopts the simplification of the figures and the absence of modeling, adding this to a continuous deformation of the motif, characteristic of Van Gogh.
All this would have to be reflected in an ambitious project en titled "The frieze of life",that does not come to an end, and of which “El Grito” is a part.
Munch made four versions of this painting.
The most famous is in the National Gallery in Oslo. It is an oil, tempera and pastel technique on cardboard, 89 cm. long and 73.5 cm. wide.
The second and third versions, (83.5 x 66 cm.) are tempera on cardboard belonging to the Munch Museum in Oslo (both were the object of a commented robbery, although they were later recovered).
The fourth painting is from a private collection.
To understand the essence of the scream, perhaps one would have to go back to Munch's childhood, marked by a rigid father and the feeling of abandonment and helplessness, the product of the death of his mother, a victim of tuberculosis, when he was only with five years, and nine years later that of his sister for the same disease. Added to this, in 1890, his other sister, Laura, is admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
The artist himself lived on a blurred border between sanity and delirium, aggravated by alcoholism.
On his mood at the moment of inspiration he comments: “I was walking along a path with two friends – the sun went down – suddenly the sky turned blood red, I stopped and leaned on a fence dead tired – blood and tongues of fire lurked on the dark blue of the fjord and the city – my friends continued and I stood still, trembling with anxiety, I felt an infinite scream that pierced nature.”
All versions feature an androgynous figure in the main shot,representative of a man of modernity, captured in an instant that expresses all his anguish and his enormous existential despair. With the city of Oslo as a backdrop, seen from Ekeberg Hill.
The first version, titled “Despair”, portrays a man wearing a top hat on the side of his head, and leaning over a ban.
Apparently the artist did not feel that the work really represented the dark sensations he was going through, so he made a second version, also called "Despair", a less human figure, facing the viewer and no longer in a contemplative state but manifestly desperate. It is believed that he may have been inspired by a Peruvian mummy seen by Munch in 1889 at the World's Fair in Paris.
The work was presented to the public in 1893, as part of a series of six paintings, in which the artist intends to show the stages of romance, from the lukewarm infatuation
to the final break, “El Grito”, final version, shows the anguish and pain of this last phase.
In 1895 Munch made a lithograph to print the work in magazines and newspapers.
In 1961 the work became popular when it was used as the cover of Times magazine for its issue on anxiety disorders and guilt complexes.
Eccentric artist Andy Warhol silk prints a series of Munch's works, including “The Scream”.
The painting takes on the status of a cultural icon, being reproduced on t-shirts, posters,keychains, mugs, etc.
Paradoxically, an incredibly emotional and expressive work, which proposes an introspection of modern man, his emptiness, internal struggles and existentialism, is transformed into something massive and a product of merchandising, something perhaps typical of a society that does not question itself too much to herself, she just consumes.