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Munch's 'The Scream' has a secret message – and we finally know who wrote it

The Scream
(Image credit: Edvard Munch)

Edvard Munch's The Scream is unsettling enough, without any extra surprises. But did you know about the secret message contained in the painting? The writing, hidden in the top-left of the piece, reads "Can only have been painted by a madman"(which, frankly, makes it even creepier). Up until now, who added this message has been a source of contention but, finally, the mystery has been solved. 

Experts have been puzzled since 1904, when the inscription was first discovered. Thanks to modern infared technology, the author has been identified as none other but the artist himself, and historians think it tells us a lot about his mindset at the time. Want to create you own masterpiece? These are the painting techniques you need to know about.

The Scream

The pencil-written message: "Can only have been painted by a madman" (Image credit: The National Museum of Norway)

Though the graffiti (written in pencil) was initially attributed to Munch, more recent theories have blamed a vandal for the addition. But now, infared photography has been used to match the handwriting to Munch's diaries and letters from the time. This has led experts at the National Museum of Norway (opens in new tab) to negate the vandal theory, and even given them a reason why Munch may have added the dark sentiment.

It's no surprise that The Scream was inspired by a period of mental illness, with a diary entry stating that Munch was inspired by a blood-red sunset while he was battling with his mental health. The painting was completed in 1883, and it is thought that the inscription was added in 1885, after a particularly personal comment about the piece.

The Scream

Infared photography at The National Museum of Norway (Image credit: Annar Bjorgli/ The National Museum of Norway)

Reportedly (opens in new tab), according to Mai Britt Guleng, a Munch specialist and curator at Norway's museum, Munch added the inscription after a student commented that The Scream must have been conceived by someone who was mentally disturbed. Obviously, Munch took this to heart and decided to immortalise the line within the painting, with Britt Guleng explaining "it's a combination of being ironic, but also showing his vulnerability".

We love a hidden message, and learning about one with such rich history is fascinating – especially for what it tells us about a painting and its artist. For hidden messages of a totally different type, you can explore our list of iconic logos with hidden meanings, or this roundup of Google Easter Eggs

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Georgia Coggan is currently Creative Bloq's Acting Deputy Editor. Georgia started her freelance career working for CB in 2018, and since then has worked across the site on news, ecom, SEO content... basically anything and everything. Now covering the Dep Ed role for three months, Georgia is a slave to the style guide, a logo geek and loves all things London Underground (its branding history, and not at rush hour). 

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