Was Edvard Munch seized by panic at the sight of “screaming clouds?”
I was walking along the street with two friends – and the sun set. Suddenly, the sky turned blood-red and I felt a shiver of sadness. A feeling of oppressive pain in my breast.“ This is how the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch described the state of feeling which he translated into his famous painting The Scream.
“I stopped in my tracks, leaned against a fence, because I felt tired to death. Above the blue-black fjord and the city, blood lay stretched out in tongues of fire. My friends proceeded ahead – and I found myself left behind, trembling with fear. And I felt that a mighty, endless scream was tearing through all of nature.”
Had Munch at that time in Oslo turned his insides out in his famous painting, as art theoreticians believe? Venting a fear of life, or of death? Was The Scream an image of the state of his soul? Or was there an external trigger for his work?
Indeed, there could have been such, meteorologists have been guessing for some time. Munch‘s Scream may have been inspired by the aspect of the sky, a gigantic cloud of ashes having spewed forth from the Krakatoa volcano in Indosia and having spread around the world in 1883, giving the sunlight a reddish cast for two years, or more. It is quite possible therefore that the painter may have seen this “blood in tongues of fire” appearing in the sky as a real phenomenon.
However, the eruption took place nine years before Munch is said to have painted The Scream. And something else did not fit quite right with a volcano-colored sky: Munch painted dramatic, red waves – but particles of ash at the borders with space are glowing as a solid, red film.
Meteorologists are now proposing a new explanation: it had been a special, rare kind of cloud which had colored the sky of Oslo in this way and produced such a deep impression on Munch. “Mother-of-pearl” clouds, which appear rarely and only in winter at high latitudes, at heights of 20km, resemble the sky-waves represented by Munch, according to a group of Norwegian scientists.
Munch’s panic can be best explained by mother-of-pearl clouds, Helene Muri from the University of Oslo explained at the annual conference of the European Geosciences Union (EGU) in Vienna, where she presented the results reached by a scientific team gathered around her colleague, Svein Fikke.
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