“While time, the endless idiot, runs screaming round the world, Carson McCullers line from her poem “When We Are Lost,” conjures up Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream,” which certainly can be said to be “screaming round the world.” Not only does this painting get earthwide attention, it also rates an astronomical dollar value – nearly $120 million, reportedly the highest price of art ever sold at auction.
If you haven’t seen “The Scream” yet, http://quadrust.com/article/munch-s-scream-doesn-t-scream-for-everyone MoMA has it through April. Munch painted four versions. Norwegian museums own three. The one on view at MoMA is the only one privately owned. And they all describe the same nightmarish vision of swirling brushwork and shrieking color. The blood-red sky and pitchy waterway take on the scream‘s reverberations. The echo seems to come back at the screaming figure, who holds his or her ears.
Likely, Munch caused this and other of his figures to look distraught to emphasize the difficulty of the human condition. His particular focus was on the despairing figures in sickrooms that inhabited his childhood.
“The Sick Child” is based on his sister’s death from tuberculosis. “Vampire describes a woman with raven hair that looks like dripping blood as she cradles a male’s head buried in her lap. Despite the affectionate gesture, the blood-letting air suggests that even with love, Munch suffered. In a “Portrait in Hell,” the nude artist’s suffering face is reddened as if in an inferno.
A lonely figure, Munch called his paintings his children. His biographer J.P. Hodin quoted him saying, “I have nobody else…“A mother who died early gave me the germ of consumption – an overly nervous father – pietistically religious bordering on fanaticism – from an old family – gave me the seeds of insanity… From birth – they stood by my side – the angels of anxiety – sorrow – death followed me outside when I played – followed me in the spring sun – in the beauty of the summer – They stood by my side in the evening when I closed my eyes – and threatened me with death, hell and eternal punishment. And then it often happened that I woke up at night – and stared in wild terror into the room.”
Watching Munch paint, biographer Hodin recorded his observation this way: “All that can be heard is the soft scraping sound of the brush on the canvas, accompanied by the intermittent rattle of the loose frame beneath the force of his powerful and at times almost violent brush strokes.”
McCullers words come back to mind about time running screaming round the world.