Why is the sky so red in Munch's The Scream and what does it mean? The scientific explanation

The dramatic red sky of the famous painting The scream by the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944) is interpreted as an externalization of the malaise, anguish and agony of human experience, but it could have a scientific explanation: according toAmerican Meteorological Societythe color could derive from the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, one of the most intense ever recorded in the history of volcanology.
The painting by the Norwegian artist, created between the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth century four different versions and became famous in its variant of 1910, is a work of extraordinary strength, which conveys the (in his case, aggravated by family bereavements). Many things about this work are striking: the person in the foreground (whose head reduced to a skull seems to let out an eternal silent cry), the sinuosity of the Norwegian landscape and – precisely – the very red sky.

The possible scientific explanation of the red sky The scream by Munch

According to theAmerican Meteorological Society the dramatic red sky may have been inspired by a volcanic sunset seen by Munch after the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, one of the largest ever recorded in the history of volcanology. Although this occurred in what is now Indonesia, its consequences were perceptible almost throughout the world because the explosion developed a power of 200 megatons and expelled something like 21 cubic kilometers of ash and pumice stone, generating an unimaginable roar.

But how do meteorologists hypothesize this association? Because the eruption would have been accompanied by stratospheric mother-of-pearl clouds, which would have been observable from southern Norway – where the painter was – in a period consistent with the creation of the painting. According to scholars, if you observe the colors and shape of the clouds painted by Munch you can probably think of the correspondence with this “dramatic” looking phenomenon. If so, it would be one of the most famous works of art in European history one of the first testimonies of this type of atmospheric phenomenon.

The difficult conservation of The scream by Munch: why red and other colors have faded

The screampreserved in the great and new Munch Museum in Oslo, would therefore be not only an artistic but also a scientific testimony. And therefore the damage would be even greater if it were to be lost: a fate that a few years ago would not have seemed so unlikely, despite the effort put into its conservation. This because the colors of the famous painting faded much faster than normal. But why?

An international consortium of scientists, who worked in collaboration with the Oslo museum and was led by the Italian National Research Council, published an article in the journal Science Advances in which it was claimed that the main cause of the fading was the low quality cadmium sulfide paint used by Munch for the creation of the painting. Well, according to the study, this pigment (which contained chlorides) was very vulnerable to humidity. Of course, the fact that the work was stolen and disappeared between 2004 and 2006 certainly didn't help. But not only that: think that this paint is so sensitive that even the low humidity produced by human breathing would be enough to deteriorate the color if too close. This is the reason why the work today is in an environment designed specifically to host it.