Federico Zeri,
Munch: The Scream
(RCS Libri, 1998; NDE, 2000)

I was awed by "The Scream" when I saw it hanging in a gallery at the Nasjonalgalleriet (National Museum) in Oslo, Norway, during a short visit in 1988. The image, vaguely familiar before that brief encounter, became firmly entrenched in my memory and, later, memorialized on the face of a greeting card from my brother that hangs over my bedroom mirror. It's a primal work of art, roughly defined but vivid in color and expressive, emotional power.

Now, nearly 14 years later, I've learned more than I ever dreamed I would about Edvard Munch's famous painting, via Federico Zeri's intensive exploration of the work in one of his highly detailed One Hundred Paintings series.

It's not just the central figure of the work, the misshapen character clutching his skull-like head between his hands as he mouths his silent scream, who evokes anguish. The colors of the sky, the sweep of clouds and distortion of the horizon all elicit pain. Zeri, in his in-depth analysis, explains how and why Munch created this work.

It's not just a single painting, as most people believe. Munch created many variations on the theme, in color and black-and-white. Zeri's analysis deconstructs the primary painting piece by piece, examining the brush strokes, uses of color and texture, and symbolic interpretations of the work.

There is ample detail from Munch's life, much of which could explain his dour outlook on his art. The book explains the progression of his work and his interaction with, influence by and influence on other artists.

Zeri also contrasts "The Scream" to Munch's other works, in particular "Desperation," which was painted one year earlier and mirrors "The Scream" in almost every way but the central figure. A year later, the setting and sky are resurrected in "Anguish," another cheerless work with more figures, more grim than tortured, in the foreground.

This book is short, only 48 pages, but is packed with an incredible amount of information and art. Zeri has done a phenomenal job of encapsulating Munch's life and work in a single, easily digestible package, one from which admirers of "The Scream" and art enthusiasts in general can learn a great deal. I would love to explore other books in Zeri's series.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 23 February 2002

Buy it from Amazon.com.