Study Reveals Nacreous Clouds Inspired The Night Sky In Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’

New study provides a detailed and scientific analysis of Munch's famous painting.

Edvard Munch inadvertently used science in The Scream
Olga Popova / Shutterstock

New study provides a detailed and scientific analysis of Munch's famous painting.

Science may have just explained the inspiration for the type of clouds depicted in Norwegian artist Edvard Munch’s The Scream, reveals a new study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, as reported by Science Daily.

Scientists at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, University of Oxford, and University of London now believe that a certain type of cloud that can be seen in southern Norway known as a nacreous (or mother of pearl), and that is where Munch got his inspiration for the night sky in The Scream.

Polar stratospheric cloud, also known as nacreous clouds from nacre, or mother of pearl, due to its iridescence Audun Saltvic / Shutterstock

Many have debated the inspiration behind Munch’s iconic piece, as well as its meaning. Science, however, has had its focus specifically on what may have inspired Munch when he painted the night sky of his masterpiece. Science Daily reports that theories have suggested Munch was inspired by a volcanic sunset that occurred after the 1883 Krakatau eruption. Another theory suggests that the vivid imagery depict the clouds, and not the man himself, screaming.

Alan Robock, who also serves as a professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers-New Brunswick, said that those who are familiar with Munch’s writing will already know the meaning.

“What’s screaming is the sky and the person in the painting is putting his or her hands over their ears so they can’t hear the scream. If you read what Munch wrote, the sky was screaming blood and fire.”

According to Science Daily, the four known versions of The Scream – a tempura on cardboard painted in 1893, a crayon on cardboard also painted in 1893, a pastel on cardboard painted in 1895, and a tempura on hard cardboard possibly painted in 1901. Billionaire Leon Black paid just under $120 million for the 1895 pastel on cardboard at auction, Science Daily adds in their report.

Nacreous clouds, the study explains, are polar stratospheric clouds lit from below the horizon by iridescent light. Robock explained that Munch’s painting are a match for sunset colors observed when nacreous clouds are present as opposed to other scenarios.

The new study piggybacks on a 2017 study which also proposed nacreous clouds as a theory, providing a much more scientific and detailed analysis of The Scream. Researchers used photographs of volcanic sunsets, nacreous clouds, and a thorough analysis of both color content and cloud pattern, Science Daily explained.

If the most recent findings prove to be correct, Munch will have been one of first to ever visually document nacreous clouds, the study reported.