You’ve seen it on everything from socks to The Simpsons to cocktail napkins, but how much do you really know about Edvard Munch's The Scream?
1. The Scream isn't one piece, but four.
Munch created a quartet of executions of the familiar scene. In 1893, the Norwegian artist made a painted version as well as a crayon piece. Two years later, he created another pastel version. Then in 1910, he used tempera paints on board for his final Scream.
2. Munch also mass-produced the image.
Once his Scream caught on in the European art scene, Munch made a lithograph of the concept so that he could sell black-and-white prints at will. These prints got a second life of sorts in 1984, courtesy of Andy Warhol. In the wake of its Munch exhibition, the New York–based Galleri Bellman commissioned the pop art pioneer to recreate Munch's lithographs as a screen print. Warhol did the same for Munch's Madonna, The Brooch, and Self-Portrait with Skeleton's Arm.
3. The original name was not The Scream.
Munch's intended name for these variants was The Scream of Nature. He shared the rationale for this title in a poem he painted on the frame of the 1895 pastel, "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.”
4. The Scream might also be about suicide.
Munch scholar Sue Prideaux places the creation of the first Scream in a time when the Norwegian painter was broke, fresh off a failed love affair, and fearful of developing the mental illness that ran in his family. To Prideaux, it's no coincidence that the bridge depicted in The Scream was a popular spot for jumpers. Tellingly, it sat within earshot of a slaughterhouse and an asylum where Munch's sister, who had schizophrenia, resided.
5. The screamer may have been based on a Peruvian mummy.
Around the time of The Scream's creation, the mummified figure of a Chachapoyas warrior was discovered near the Utcubamba River in Peru's Amazonas Region. With hands cemented in place on either side of a mouth open in an apparent shriek, the mummy bears a striking resemblance to Munch's screamer. Art historian Robert Rosenblum posited Munch found inspiration in the mummy while it was on display at an exhibition in Paris.
6. It inspired the mask of Wes Craven's Scream killer.
Craven counts Munch's The Scream as one of his favorite works of art, and has said, "It's a classic reference to just the pure horror of parts of the 20th century, or perhaps just human existence." Which would explain why Ghostface's mask in Scream bears some striking similarities.
7. The Scream also influenced Doctor Who.
In the re-launched sci-fi series, the beloved Doctor faces off against universe-threatening aliens known as the Silents. Executive producer Steven Moffat confessed the look of these terrifying creatures was inspired in part by Munch's Scream.
8. Thieves left a mocking note when The Scream was first stolen.
On the same day the 1994 Winter Olympics opened in Lillehammer, Norway, bandits placed a ladder up to the window of the National Gallery in Oslo, slunk inside, and made off with The Scream. They were so pleased with the ease of this crime that they added insult to robbery, leaving a note that read, "Thanks for the poor security." Thankfully, the painting was recovered within three months.
9. Armed gunmen stole The Scream in 2004.
In a daring daylight heist, two masked men rushed into Oslo's Munch Museum and made off with The Scream and Madonna. By May 2006, three men had been convicted for the theft. But despite the city of Oslo offering a 2 million kroner (then about $313,000 U.S.) reward, the paintings remained missing.
10. Two million M&M's were offered as a reward for its return …
In August 2006, Mars, Inc. became involved in the recovery efforts as a marketing ploy to promote the brand's new dark chocolate M&Ms. Along with an ad that featured the red M&M playing hopscotch within the iconic painting, Mars offered up the sweet reward.
11. … and it kind of worked.
Just a few days after the promotion started, a convict gave up the whereabouts of the missing paintings during a plea deal, asking for conjugal visits and the 2.2 tons of candy. However, Mars decided if anyone would get the prize, it should be the Norwegian authorities who collared the guy in the first place. The police decided it would be best if the cash value of the candy (about $26,000 at the time) went to the Munch Museum.
12. Gamblers bet on The Scream being stolen again.
Specifically, London bookies were offering 20/1 odds that the only Scream to be in private hands would be snatched before it hit the auction block at a highly anticipated Sotheby's sale on May 2, 2012. Published estimates put the piece's value at $80 million. Ultimately, the second pastel Scream sold for $119.9 million, making it, at the time, "the world’s most expensive work of art ever to sell at auction."
13. We may be scientifically wired to respond to The Scream.
Studies made by Harvard neurobiology professor Margaret Livingstone on macaque monkeys show that the primate brain is more likely to respond to faces that are exaggerated, like The Scream's distended mouth. Livingstone told The Wall Street Journal, "That's why I think a caricature of an emotion works so well. It's what our nerve cells are tuned to."
14. The Scream is in the public domain.
Well, more specifically, The Scream--and all other works by Munch--are in the public domain in nations that embrace the “life plus 70 years” copyright term. Because Munch died in 1944, January 1, 2015 marked the issuing of his works into the public domain in countries like Brazil, Israel, Nigeria, Russia, Turkey, and those within the European Union. It was already public domain in the United States because it was created before 1923.