I have always thought one of the most powerful elements of this painting is the silence. It has been called The Cry and with this painting, Edvard Munch, visually expressed a cry of anguish. Who has not had a dream when you try to scream and no sound comes out?
The figure in the foreground has no definable features, no definable characteristics, no definable culture. The lines and brushstrokes swirl around and merge into an undefinable landscape, just a bridge over water. But with hands raised to its head and mouth and eyes rounded in horror this painting has captured the imagination around the world. Who has not experienced a cry of anguish and unable to release the sound?
Musicians and songwriters have written many pieces where we hear the cry, but Munch gave it a visual expression without the sound and it is that which makes it universal, what soul has not felt that pain.
The first time I saw this painting, it was this version, in a retrospective of Munch's work in London. I was slightly disappointed by the size. I imagined it much larger having seen it projected onto screens in art history class. But looking into it, it did not disappoint, I was moved by the silent cry.
Munch has left a few words in a journal describing the situation that inspired this iconic image:
"I was walking along a path with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature."
These words were later hand painted on the frame of the 1895 version of the painting.
This version of the painting was sold yesterday at Sotheby's in New York for nearly $120 million dollars. I hope the new custodian will care for it and maintain it for all generations to come.
Since we now have a value on universal anguish I wonder if psychotherapists will be able to raise their fees and will lawyers demand more for "pain and suffering"in settlements.