Why Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ needs to practice social distancing

Maybe “The Scream” needs to practice social distancing.

Edvard Munch’s famous painting is fading due to human breath, according to a new study.

Curators at the Munch Museum in Oslo noticed the sunset background and the neck area of the screaming protagonist in the 1910 masterpiece had begun to fade to white, so a team of scientists from around the world joined an investigation to find out why.

The experts used non-invasive spectroscopic methods and X-ray techniques and discovered Munch had accidentally used an impure cadmium yellow paint, which can fade and flake in humid conditions, such as when breathed upon by a crowd of art lovers, according to a study published by Science Advances.

“When people breathe they produce moisture and they exude chlorides so in general with paintings it is not too good to be close too much to the breath of all the passersby,” Professor Koen Janssens from the University of Antwerp told the Guardian.

“I don’t think it was an intentional use — I think he just bought a not very high level of paint. This is 1910 and at that point the chemical industry producing the chemical pigments is there but it doesn’t mean they have the quality control of today,” Janssens continued.

These new findings will be incorporated into the display of “The Scream” at the Munch Museum, which will open later this year.

Scientists hope that changing the environment in which the painting was exhibited in will slow down its degradation.


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