Friday, January 18, 2013

The Scream of Nature

Speaking of science and art (see yesterday's post), everyone is, I'm sure, familiar with Munch's famous painting The Scream:

Der Schrei der Natur (The Scream of Nature) by Edvard Munch (1893)

In a diary entry from January 1892, Munch described his inspiration (Wikipedia):

One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream.

Some have wondered why Munch chose to paint the sky such lurid shades of red and orange.  Dr. Donald Olson, a Texas State University physics and astronomy professor, believes that it was due to the eruption of Krakatoa which occurred a decade prior to Munch painting this scene.

On August 27, 1883, the volcanic island of Krakatoa in Indonesia was destroyed in a series of four massive eruptions.  These explosions were so loud they were heard up to 2,000 miles away.  Massive amounts of ash were injected 50 miles up into the stratosphere where jet stream winds spread them around the world lowering global temperatures in the years following the eruption.

In the winter of 1883/84, Europe experienced vivid blood-red sunsets due to the ash in the atmosphere from Krakatoa.  The painting below, for example, was done by William Ashcroft on the banks of the Thames in England.
William Ashcroft (1884)

These brilliant sunsets were described in Munch's native Olso as well making it a reasonable interpretation of his inspiration.

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