The Scream: Or On Almost Owning A Munch

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Currently the Museum of Modern Art in New York is exhibiting a version of The Scream  by Edvard Munch. Leon Black, a member of the Board of Trustees, who paid $119.9 million for it at a Sotheby’s. The price is presently the highest ever paid for a painting at an auction.

A few other insightful and disturbing works by the Norwegian master surround the painting in the small gallery on the museum’s fifth floor. I had come an hour before the museum closed, so the crowd that comes to “listen” to the painting’s almost audible scream had thinned. I savored the extraordinary reds, pinks, and oranges of the Oslo sunset, and wondered at the egg-shaped head and the gaping, round mouth of the central character, who had covered her ears to avoid hearing her outburst. The two other Munch’s in the gallery were equally beautiful and troubling. One is a version of Munch’s Madonna and the other, entitled Storm, is of a house with a large hipped roof. Its windows brightly lit, the trees of the desolate landscape are bent by the wind, while a disconsolate family of five stands in front of their threatened abode, all shielding their ears with their hands.

In 1963 my family, including Judy our nine-year old daughter and David our seven-year old son, traveled to Oslo as part of my husband’s year-long European sabbatical. We had spent the day at the then new Munch museum and were completely enchanted by the symbolist painter, so we dragged our poor children to the nearby art gallery run by the painter’s daughter. It turned out that our children charmed the lady, especially after she discovered that she and our son shared their February 19th birthday. We looked at the prices of the drawings and my husband told me that we could possibly afford a print. Our visit to the gallery turned serious. Should we buy a version of the Scream, or of The Sick Child, or …

As I tackled this serious but pleasant decision, my husband poked me in the ribs.  By converting Norwegian into Dollars he had made a mistake by a factor of ten. After all, we could not afford a print.

Years later we discovered that the Munch museum in Oslo was running a raffle. By buying a rather pricey chance we were given a shot at winning a genuine Munch print. We eagerly mailed in our money and lost. The museum mailed us a reproduction of The Vampire, which we had framed and continue to admire. All said and done, we probably enjoy it as much as we would have the genuine article.

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