Scientists Discover Source of The Scream's Big Problem

Humidity is causing low-quality paint to fade, flake
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 18, 2020 1:19 PM CDT
Human Breath Is Hurting The Scream
Edvard Munch's painting "The Scream" on display at the Munch Museum in Oslo.   (AP Photo/Stian Lysberg Solum / Scanpix Norway)

If The Scream could scream a message, it might be "Stop breathing on me!" Scientists say Edvard Munch's 1910 version of the iconic painting, one of four he created, has been deteriorating because the Norwegian used a low-quality tube of paint, the Guardian reports. In a study at Science Advances, they say the impure cadmium yellow is affected by the humidity from people breathing near it, which has caused it to turn off-white and start flaking away. Instead of pure cadmium sulphide, he used a "not very clean version that contained chloride," says University of Antwerp expert Koen Janssens. He says Munch probably intended to use better-quality paint, but in 1910, the industry producing pigments didn't have "the quality control of today."

The painting was also damaged when it was stolen in 2004. It was recovered and returned to Oslo's Munch Museum in 2006. The museum plans to move to new premises later this year and officials say they will follow scientists' recommendations for storing and displaying the painting. Researchers Letizia Monico and Costanza Miliani say it will not degrade further or need repairs if it is kept under the right conditions. They tell CNN that the "timeless" painting is "a symbol of the anguish and melancholy of modern and contemporary people." "Especially during these uncertain times, everyone can recognize a little part of him/herself on the screaming figure," they say. "You can see your fears, your desire to escape from an uncontrollable and overwhelming situation." (Read more The Scream stories.)

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