It was painted in 1895, and on the frame is a poem by Munch:
"I was walking along the road with two friends
the sun was setting - the sky turned a bloody red
And I felt a whiff of melancholy - I stood
still, deathly tired - over the blue-black
fjord and city hung blood and tongues of fire
my friends walked on - I remained behind
- shivering with anxiety - I felt the great scream in nature - EM"
His biographer, Sue Prideaux, says that it is impossible to ignore the image's wider context - a widespread late-19th Century sense of unease as the works of Darwin and Nietzsche corroded the old faiths and centuries of previous generations. It was Munch's ability to blend the deeply personal with the universal that has made his most celebrated work so enduring, she says.
"The feelings expressed in the painting were extremely subjective on Munch's part," she says. "But because this skull, essentially, has an everyman quality we can all project our feelings onto it."
I don't think this last part is right at all. In the poem, Munch says he "felt the great scream in nature." Well did he or didn't he? Are feelings purely subjective or can they tell us something about the world? To call his feelings 'extremely subjective' seems to me to be an insult to this artist, and a concession to the scientific world-view that sees people as isolated, and only able to know the world through the god of reason.
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Painted in 1895, the painting could also be seen as prophetic of World War I, where technology was able to create mass slaughter on a scale previously unknown. Again, this perspective is unavailable to Prideaux. Jung also had his well-known vision of a blood-soaked Europe shortly before World War I broke out. He came to see this vision as prophetic; Anthony Storr sees that as narcissism on Jung's part, which again is an insult, said presumably because he also lives in a world where prophecy isn't possible.
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Born on 12th December 1863, Munch had North Node in Scorpio. The Node is where we find our greatest fulfillment, and to which we are drawn often without knowing it. Scorpio is ruled by a collective planet (Pluto) and it is the sign par excellence of hidden, instinctive feeling. Munch's planet of artistic feeling, Venus, is also in Scorpio, and opposite Pluto. So this suggests that The Scream is as much about the expression of something raw and instinctive that is hidden beneath the civilised veneer, as it is about collective pain and despair. It is saying look beneath the surface to that which has become inadmissible.