I felt as though a vast, endless scream passed through nature

The Scream (1893), oil, tempera and pastel on cardboard, 91 x 73 cm.
National Gallery of Norway.

In 1893, Norwegian artist Edvard Munch unveiled The Scream: a striking oil painting in which a panic-stricken figure stands aghast beneath a fiery sky, hands clasped to face, a couple standing further along the bridge they share. Now one of history’s most recognisable works of art, theories continue to swirl about the scene it depicts: Had Munch observed the after-effects of a volcanic eruption? Was the sky reddened due to nacreous clouds? Was the protagonist inspired by a Peruvian mummy seen by Munch in 1889? Was the entire scene provoked by Munch’s inner turmoil at the time? It is doubtful we will ever find answers. What we do know is that in January of 1892, a year before the he painted the scene, Munch wrote this entry in his journal.

The Diary Entry
MM T 2760, fol. 56r, Munch Museum. Dated 22/1/1892. The Violet Journal (Accessed 22-1-2023)
English Translation

Nice  22/1/92

I was walking along the road with two friends – the sun was setting – I felt a wave of sadness – The sky suddenly turned blood-red

I stopped, leaned against the fence tired to death – gazed out over the flaming clouds like blood and swords – the blue-black fjord and city – My friends walked on – I stood there quaking with angst – and I felt as though a vast, endless scream passed through nature


Further Reading

Munch’s many journals, notebooks, letters and other writing can be viewed online at eMunch.no, a quite incredible project by the Munch Museum. This particular entry can be found in The Violet Journal; translation courtesy of Francesca M. Nichols. Image and text used here by kind permission of the Munch Museum.

There is a book, too: The Private Journals of Edvard Munch: We Are Flames Which Pour Out of the Earth, edited by J. Gill Holland and published by University of Wisconsin Press in 2005.

One response to “I felt as though a vast, endless scream passed through nature”

  1. Very interesting. By the way, I followed your link to the Munch Museum archive and quite by chance, I found this other entry that seems to establish a direct link between the walk and the picture:

    https://emunch.no/TRANS_HYBRIDMM_N0069.xhtml
    MM N 69, fol. 1r

    I was walking down a road
    one evening on one side
    lay the city and the fjord –
    I was tired and ill – I stood
    gazing directly out over the fjord – and let my friends continue.
    The Sun was setting – and the air – turned the colour of
    red – like blood –
    – I felt as though a Scream – passed through
    nature – I thought
    I heard a scream –
    – I painted this picture – I painted
    the air and the clouds like blood –
    The Picture Scream! – in the frieze of life.

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