Saturday, November 04, 2023

Geology in Art - The Scream

Not sure if this will be a new series or not but I always found the inclusion of geology in the media that surrounds us to often times be surprising. And that includes the Art around us. In this instance we have Edvard Munch's The Scream (1893):

 Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893, Nasjonalmuseet, Oslo, Norway

Edvard Munch was a Norwegian artist, living in Norway at the time. In his diary entry of January 22, 1892, Munch had described his inspiration for The Scream:
One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream.
There is also a poem that he had written from 1895 with much the same vibe (Daily Art Magazine):
I was walking along the road with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.
There is no set time when this happened though, except that it must have been before the 1892 journal entry. It has been postulated (Olson et al., 2004) that the cause of this "blood red" sunset was from the eruption of the volcano Krakatoa in Indonesia on August 27th, 1883. 

And while the eruption of Krakatoa was literally half a world away, there are other instances where the eruption impacted sunsets across the globe. There is a report in Pennsylvania from the Hanover Spectator from December 19th of 1883 where it is reported:
Residents “… witnessed a most beautiful and startling phenomenon … the sky … was fairly aglow with crimson and golden fires.”
Mount Krakatoa. Image courtesy of the Global Volcanism Project

Krakatoa (or Mount Krakatoa) is a stratovolcano located within the Pacific Ring of Fire and produced one of the largest eruptions in recorded history. 

During the eruption, ash was sent 50 miles into the atmosphere covering 300,000 square miles. The ash eventually circled the globe dropping the global temperature by a full degree Celsius the year following the eruption. It took 5 years for the Earth's temperature to revert to normal. The final eruption produced a shockwave that was heard by 10% of the Earth's surface and ejected as much as 5 cubic miles of rock fragments into the air, causing the island to collapse down into it's 3.8 mile wide caldera. In addition, pyroclastic flows were produced, clouds of hot dust and ash of more than 300 degrees Celsius traveling at over 100 kph, wiping out everything for miles around the volcano. And the most devastation was produced by the series of tsunamis that smashed into 165 coastal villages in the surrounding islands of Java and Sumatra, extending to the Arabian peninsula, killing 36,000 people. 

It seems like based on Munch's personal accounts of the blood red sunset and the cause of that sunset, that it was indeed possible that the eruption was the impetus for the creation of The Scream.


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