The reason Edvard Munch’s most famous artwork The Scream is shrieking in horror has been finally revealed: it wants you to stop breathing on it.
It seems it is not only humans that benefit from social distancing, as researchers seeking to identify the reason for the painting’s deterioration have discovered that human breath has contributed to its damage.
By conducting x-ray probes of the paint on the 1910 work of art, a group of scientists discovered that Munch mistakenly used an impure cadmium yellow which is vulnerable in low humidity – for example, when breathed upon.
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As a result, the intended bright yellow on the sunset, lake and areas of the main figure’s skin have faded to off-white or even started to flake away.
Munch’s extensive use of experimental pigments “poses a challenge for the long-term preservation of Munch’s artworks because of their tendency to undergo photo-chemical transformations causing color changes and/or structural damage,” reads the study, undertaken by scientists from Belgium, Brazil, Italy and the US and published in Science Advances.
The use of cadmium-based yellow paints also appear in artworks by a number of Munch’s contemporaries, including Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse and James Ensor. This study could aid preservation efforts for these artists’ works.
The theft of The Scream in 2004 also resulted in damage to the cardboard and a dirty water mark. It was taken along with his Madonna when two masked gunmen raided the Munch Museum in Oslo in broad daylight. Both were recovered two years later.