Why You Can See Cardboard in Munch's the Scream

Editorial Feature

By Google Arts & Culture

The Scream (1910) by Edvard MunchThe Munch Museum, Oslo

Edvard Munch: the man who painted the face of modern anxiety - on cardboard

When one of four colored versions of Munch’s famous painting The Scream sold at Sotheby’s for close to $120 million (USD) in 2012, few could know the full backstory of anxiety, alcoholism, and despair that lay behind the painting. Fewer still might imagine that such a priceless work was painted on a “canvas” made from a material now widely regarded as cheap, common and worthless: cardboard.

The Scream, Edvard Munch, 1910 (From the collection of The Munch Museum, Oslo)

That’s right - Norway’s most famous painter, the man who once remarked that "Without anxiety and illness, I am a ship without a rudder.... My sufferings are part of myself and my art. They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art" - painted his masterpiece on the same thing we use to put our belongings in during a move. The same thing our cereal comes in. The question, of course, is why?

The Scream (detail), Edvard Munch, 1910 (From the collection of The Munch Museum, Oslo)

Well, it turns out there’s a very simple answer: when Munch was still a struggling young artist trying to come to terms with the early deaths of both his mother and beloved sister, Sophie, from tuberculosis (a disease from which the artist himself also suffered), cardboard was the only material he could afford, canvas being more expensive; later, after becoming established, Munch retained his fondness for the medium. You could say Munch simply loved to paint on cardboard.

Zoom into the painting, digitized in super-high gigapixel resolution, here to see the cardboard hiding in plain sight.

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