The iconic red-and-yellow sky in 'The Scream' - a painting by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch that sold for a record USD 119.9 million - may have been inspired by the "mother-of-pearl" clouds seen in Norway, scientists say.
Some experts attribute the dramatic backdrop of the painting to a volcanic sunset after the 1883 Krakatau eruption, while others think the wavy sky shows a scream from nature.
Scientists at Rutgers University in the US, University of Oxford and University of London in the UK suggest that nacreous, or "mother of pearl," clouds in southern Norway inspired the sky in the painting. Their study is published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.
"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," said Alan Robock, a professor at Rutgers. "If you read what Munch wrote, the sky was screaming blood and fire," said Robock.
There are four known versions of The Scream: an 1893 tempera on cardboard; an 1893 crayon on cardboard; an 1895 pastel on cardboard that billionaire Leon Black bought for nearly USD 120 million at auction; and a tempera on hard cardboard thought to have been painted in 1910.
Iridescent light from below the horizon illuminates polar stratospheric clouds, also known as nacreous clouds. Robock said the sky colours and patterns in Munch's paintings match sunset colours better when nacreous clouds are present versus other scenarios.
The research builds on a 2017 study that also proposed nacreous clouds. The new study provides a more detailed and scientific analysis of Munch's paintings, focusing on photographs of volcanic sunsets and nacreous clouds and analysing the colour content and cloud patterns.
If the new analysis is correct, Munch's art is one of the earliest visual documentations of nacreous clouds, the study said.