Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Art and Nature: The Scream of Nature by Edvard Munch (1 of 3)


The Scream” (1893 and 1910) by Edvard Munch
The artist, Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) painted “The Scream” from a visionary experience that he had.  He tells of walking along a path near a Norwegian fjord with his friends.  As the blood red sun was setting, Munch felt “an infinite scream passing through nature”.  While painting this picture as a part of his series, “The Frieze of Life”, Munch described it as “the soul’s final breaking point.”

During his artistic career, Munch painted several versions of “The Scream”.  Since each picture was done at a different point in his life, they reflect the subtle changes in his style and point of view.  Examine the first version of 1893 with the later 1910 one to see how Munch’s perspective changed about his initial experience.  Although the subject matter remains the same, the paintings have become separate entities.

The original 1893 painting is a more realistic painting of the scene at the fjord.  Although the screaming figure is stylized, the observer can tell that he is a male human.  Moreover the sky, sea, railing, and on-lookers are realistically painted.  The scene is stylized but still realistic.

In contrast, the 1910 painting reflects a more abstract style.  The sea merges into the sky, while the path becomes a straight line leading into the horizon.  The screaming figure ceases to be a human male, and the onlookers merge with the sky.

To understand their differences, the elements of each painting need to be examined more closely.  The similarities are that both versions include the diagonal straight lines of the path and the curling wavy lines of the sea and sky.  However, the lines of the 1893 version are calm with natural shapes dominating the space.  Meanwhile, the 1910 version has ramrod straight lines and gyrating curves which become semi-circles.  Also, the shapes of the 1910 picture are the artificial ones of squares and circles.

Comparing the colors of each painting leads to uncovering more differences. The 1893 picture has conventional colors for each of the subjects portrayed.  The railing and path are depicted in various shades of brown.  The clothing of the people is navy and black; the same as the sea.  The sky is filled with oranges, yellows, and light blues of a sunset.  These colors mesh well together to keep the observer from being unsettled by the experience of the screaming man.

However it seems that Munch’s aim in the 1910 version is to completely unsettle the observer.  Nothing is painted in a natural color.  The garish oranges and yellows of the sky flow into the equally garish oranges and yellows of the path.  The yellows, which are tinged with green, then clash with the blood red of the oranges of the painting.  The royal blue of the sea creates discord with the various oranges.  Finally, the blue and purple figures are paired with the yellow greens to create a noxious stomach-churning edginess.

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