One of Edvard Munch's (1863-1944) best known version of The Scream is a 20" x 15 3/16 " lithograph housed at this time at The Art Institute of Chicago. Munch, a Norwegian painter and graphic artist, had unmediated and specific ideas that he related in his many works:
I painted picture after picture after the impressions that my eye took in at moments of emotion--painted lines and colors that showed themselves on my inner eye......I painted only the memories without adding anything--without details I could no longer see...By painting colors and lines and shapes that I had seen in an emotional mood I wanted the emotional mood to ring out again as happens on a gramophone.
The tone of scene is set by the foreground figure as a focal point grotesquely distorted. The facial expression is repeated in repercussions again and again from different angles in the dynamics of his characteristic style of flattened color patches, swirling line and repetitive symbolic images in the background.
Munch beliefs were based in the Romantics. He felt deeply the pain of human life that humans were powerless before the greatness of nature and its forces of love and death became thematic throughout a majority of his art. Frequently he would repeat the same composition in different mediums such as oil paintings, as a woodcut, or lithograph. He was very effective in using black and white as a stark contrast. His greatness in this work is not only the disquieting look at neurotic panic breaking forth in a terrible yet silent scream but the fact that this cracking under prolonged anxiety has indeed been identified with and 'rung out again' by so many others well known artists some of whom have been mentioned in the previous write up. Typically pluralistic in style for the times, it is a symbolistic work with the first hints of what was to become expressionism.
Impacted by Paul Gauguin's devices, the use of color and strong patterns as well as using print media, Munch echoed these influences through his work to the German Expressionists. Like his friend the Swedish novelist August Strindberg he portrayed the unbearable portraits of human loneliness that reverberates in modern existentialism as humanly inescapable.
The Scream was painted when he was in his early thirties, at around forty-five, Munch suffered a profound depression and spent eight months in a sanatorium in Denmark. After his illness he no longer painted anxiety-laden subjects matter so central to his work. He began painting everyday subjects with the same vigorous brushwork and expressionistic colors as before. His motives may have been for healing. Many of his lithographs verge on irony, to which he was not averse. Even so, modifying the well-known phrase, it does suggest that 'irony is the courtesy of despair'. Once a moralizing critic of modern man, he later claimed to a friend that he had simultaneously given up women and alcohol as the cause of his depression, irony indeed cannot be ruled out.
You can read more about artists from this era at the Post-Impressionism, Symbolism and Art-Nouveau node.