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There’s a hidden message on Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream,’ and now we know who wrote it

The mystery behind the phrase and its author have been the subject of debate for decades

SHARE There’s a hidden message on Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream,’ and now we know who wrote it
In this Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019 file photo, people look at “The Scream” at the National Gallery in Oslo.

In this Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019 file photo, people look at “The Scream” at the National Gallery in Oslo.

Associated Press

“Can only have been painted by a madman.” That’s the phrase that appears in the top left corner of Edvard Munch’s famous 19th-century painting “The Scream,” written in pencil.

According to CNN, the mystery behind the phrase and its author have been the subject of debate for decades, though it was widely believed that a dissatisfied onlooker wrote it after seeing the work on display.

Mai Britt Guleng, a curator at Norway’s National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design (the museum that currently owns the painting), claims that the mystery can now be put to bed, The New York Post reports. After comparing the inscription to the artist’s handwritten diaries and letters, Guleng and a team of researchers discovered that the phrase was penned by none other than Munch himself, the site reports.

“The writing is without a doubt Munch’s own,” Guleng said in a recent statement (via The Associated Press). She added, “The handwriting itself, as well as events that happened in 1895 ... all point in the same direction.”

The Associated Press reports that the inscription was likely added to the painting in 1895 as that was the year Munch was showcasing the painting for the first time. According to the site, early criticisms of the work led to public speculation about the artist’s mental state.

According to CNN, Munch was profoundly hurt by the accusations, and returned to them frequently in letters and diary entries. Both Munch’s father and sister suffered from bouts of depression and Munch himself was hospitalized in 1908 after experiencing a nervous breakdown.

CNN reports that Munch’s expressionist painting is one of the most celebrated art works of the modern era. Its subject’s anguished face has become so ubiquitous that it’s now used as an emoji 😱.