The words “Can only have been painted by a madman” had been the cause of serious debate in the art world, with experts arguing over whether the Norwegian artist wrote the message himself or if the painting was vandalised by an unimpressed viewer.
The barely visible sentence was written in pencil in the top left-hand corner.
New tests conducted by The National Museum of Norway – using technology to analyse the handwriting and compare it with the writing in the artist’s letters and diaries – have now confirmed the words were written by Munch himself.
“The writing is without a doubt Munch’s own,” museum curator Mai Britt Guleng said.
“The handwriting itself, as well as events that happened in 1895, when Munch showed the painting in Norway for the first time, all point in the same direction.”
Appearing on the Today show on BBC Radio 4, she explained that “curiously enough” there had been little speculation over the inscription until recently.
“[The message] can be read both as a statement of vulnerability [but also] showing us the painter who loved to provoke,” she said.
Munch created four versions of The Scream – two in paint and two in pastel – along with a lithograph stone from which a number of prints were made.
When the first version was first unveiled, it provoked heavy criticism along with gossip surrounding the state of Munch’s mental health.
It is believed that the artist, who was hurt by the reaction, added his statement to the painting after its first exhibition.
He was hospitalised after suffering a nervous breakdown in 1908.
The Scream will be exhibited with several other of Munch’s works in the newly constructed National Museum of Norway from 2022.
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