By Raven Shellman
Authorship of the tiny inscription, “Could have only been painted by a madman,” within Edvard Munch’s famous painting “The Scream” has finally been determined by curators at the National Museum of Norway—it was done by none other than Munch himself.
Experts have known about the inscription in the top-left corner of the painting for decades, but they were continuously baffled by its origins. Some experts thought viewers had vandalized the work in galleries; others thought it had been done by Munch.
Though Munch completed the painting in 1893, the inscription was added years later by pencil. Munch painted four versions of “The Scream” from 1893 to 1910. The first version, painted on tempera with pastels, is owned by the National Museum and is the only one which has the inscription.
“In 1904, it would be unthinkable to an art critic that an artist would make such an inscription on the surface of his own painting,” said Museum Curator Mai Britt Guleng in a statement to Artnet News.
The text is not large enough for viewers to notice since the painting is behind a glass display case in the museum. To study the inscription, researchers had to use an infrared camera to make it legible. “Had it been an act of vandalism, it would have been larger,” Guleng said.
Letters in the inscription such as “N “and “D” are distinctly similar to Munch’s handwriting. Art historians believe that Munch wrote the inscription as a response when it was exhibited in 1895.
At the time, a medical student stated that the painting led him to question Munch’s mental state, calling him a “madman.” Munch was deeply affected by this comment and continuously wrote about it in journals and letters.
Still, it is uncertain when the inscription was written, leading the art community to believe there is much more to learn about the artist’s work.
“The Scream” will be on display in 2022 at the National Museum of Norway with many of Munch’s other paintings such as “Madonna,” “The Dance of Life,” and “Self-Portrait with Cigarette.”