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Date: July 2018
Publisher: American Meteorological Society
Document Type: Article
Length: 8,430 words
Lexile Measure: 1420L

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The Scream is a well-known painting by Edvard Munch (1863-1944). The Norwegian word used by Munch is "skrik," which can be translated as "shriek" or "scream." The Scream may be of interest to meteorologists because of the quite striking representation of the sky. It has been suggested that the dramatic red-colored sky was inspired by a volcanic sunset seen by Munch after the Krakatau eruption in 1883 and by a sighting of stratospheric nacreous clouds, and also that it is part of the artist's expression of a scream from nature. The evidence for the volcanic sunset theory and Munchs psyche are briefly reviewed. We provide support that Munchs inspiration may have been from a sighting of nacreous clouds, observable from southern Norway during the winter months. We show that the colors and patterns of the sky in Munch's painting match the sunset colors better if nacreous clouds are present. Their sudden appearance around and after sunset creates an impressive and dramatic effect. By comparing the color content of photographs and paintings of regular sunsets, volcanic sunsets, and nacreous clouds after sunset with the color content of the sky in The Scream, the match is better with nacreous clouds present. If this conjecture is correct, then Munch's sky in The Scream represents one of the earliest visual documentations of a nacreous cloud display.


The representation of clouds and other meteorological phenomena in art has been recognized for some time as a source of potential data to describe aspects of the atmosphere long before the widespread use of quantitative measuring devices (e.g., Neuberger 1970; Brimblecombe and Ogden 1977; Thornes 1999; Zerefos et al. 2007,2014). A notable example of this was the use of William Ascroft's pastel sketches (Ascroft 1888) showing dramatic sunsets that appear on the frontispiece of the Royal Society's publication "The eruption of Krakatoa and subsequent phenomena" (Symons 1888). These sketches depict observations from Chelsea, London, on 26 November 1883 and show the effects that aerosols high in the atmosphere have on the color of the sky. We cannot be sure that the chromolithograph reproductions of the sketches accurately represent the spectral content of the sky, as we also cannot be sure that Ascroft himself accurately depicted the colors using the palette of crayons available to him, but modern photographs of volcanic sunsets resemble these sketches well.

Hamblyn (2001) describes the origin of the systematic categorization of clouds by Luke Howard. Clouds had hitherto been assumed to be ephemeral shapes in the sky. This "invention" had an immediate impact on the scientific community and was recognized at the time as an important paradigm. Howard's descriptions included sketches of various cloud types, but interestingly not all. Fikke et al. (2017) have hypothesized that the sky in The Scream has a striking similarity to mother-of-pearl or nacreous clouds. They discuss anecdotal evidence concerning the possibility that Munch observed these clouds while out walking with friends one evening, or perhaps on another occasion or occasions. They suggest that although Munch himself seems...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A550300822