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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 August, 2004, 13:58 GMT 14:58 UK
Munch's agonising masterpiece
The Scream (National Gallery version)
The Scream is also known by another name, The Cry
A version of The Scream painted by Edvard Munch has been stolen from a Norwegian museum. BBC News Online looks at the history of this iconic work.

The Scream is one of the world's most recognisable paintings.

Copies of the anguished expressionist work can be found in any major poster shop and it is even the name and symbol of a popular pub chain in the UK.

But who was the man behind the 1893 masterpiece?

Edvard Munch was born in Loten, East Norway, in 1863.

He began painting at the age of 17 in Oslo, but was mainly based in Paris and Berlin for the next 20 years.

His main early influences were impressionism and post-impressionism but his concern with images of misery and death led him to become a proponent of the emerging German art form expressionism.

It wouldn't be the end of the world if it disappeared
Brian Sewell
One of his friends was playwright Henrik Ibsen - Munch designed the sets for some of his plays.

But The Scream is undoubtedly Munch's best-known work.

Its popularity increased rapidly during the latter half of the 20th Century.

The image of an anguished figure, fear etched upon the face, has reached iconic status alongside the likes of Van Gogh's Sunflowers.

The work was part of a series of pictures called The Frieze of Life, described by Munch himself as "a poem of life, love and death".

Misery

Its blur of colours and form are loved by millions and many see it as a symbol of the alienation of the modern age.

Munch wrote of the painting: "I was walking along a path with two friends - the sun was setting - suddenly the sky turned blood red.

"I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence - there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city.

"My friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety - and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature."

Art critic Brian Sewell believes the painting is more popular with the public than art connoisseurs and acknowledges that it is "as famous as the Mona Lisa".

But he believes Munch produced better paintings.

History repeated

"It wouldn't be the end of the world if it (The Scream) disappeared," he told BBC News 24 after hearing the news it had been stolen.

Another version of the painting was stolen in 1994 from the National Gallery in Oslo - it was missing for three months before being recovered. Three Norwegians were arrested in connection with that theft.

It is difficult to see how any original of The Scream could be sold on the black market given how recognisable it is - and the Norwegian authorities will be hoping this could be the key to its return.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's David Sillito
"The Munch gallery hopes they will see their paintings again"



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