Mysterious smudge on Edvard Munch’s The Scream is candle wax

Long thought to be bird fells, researchers utilized X-ray diffraction to determine the origin of the stain on 1893 version in Norways National Museum

After years of speculation, scientists from the University of Antwerp in Belgium have finally solved a mystery surrounding The Scream, Edvard Munchs iconic paint. A strange white mark on one version of the paint has been identified as candle wax, and not bird fells as was once theorized.

Munch painted four versions of the artwork during the course of its 1890 s, but an 1893 iteration which resides in the Norwegian National Museum has long had a white smudge of unknown origin near the screaming subjects shoulder. One version sold for $119,922, 500 in 2012 and hung in the Museum of Modern Art in New York for a day. Two others belong to the Munch Museum. One was once stolen, as were some of the artists other runs though they were later recovered.

As photographs show that Munch sometimes painted outside and liked to uncover his paintings to the forces of nature, some theorized that birds flying by literally added another layer of meaning to Munchs Masterpiece, a spokesperson for the University of Antwerp wrote on its site.

Professor Tine Frysaker from the University of Oslo and Thierry Ford, paintings conservator at the National Museum, however, were unconvinced. Frysaker, who has encountered bird excrement in other aspects of her career, guessed the white place did not look like bird fells under the microscope. According to the universitys post, Ford believed that bird excrements are known to have a corroding or macerating consequence on many materials, a statement that most auto owneds can confirm, and the substance on Munchs painting seemed to lie on top of the paint and to have flaked off throughout the years.

A last technological argument opposing this theory is the fact that Munch utilized a cardboard substrate to paint the Scream, a material that is particularly fragile and hygroscopic and would have suffered severe damage when left outdoors, the spokesperson for the University of Antwerp wrote.

Last May, a team of researchers from Antwerps X-ray Analysis, Electrochemistry and Speciation research group were invited to Oslo to analyze the materials used in The Scream and used the opportunity to settle the dispute.

The researchers took a sample of the substance and analyzed it using X-ray diffraction. I instantly recognised the diffraction pattern of wax as I encountered this material several times upon measuring paintings, Frederik Vanmeert, a PhD student at Antwerp, said.

Dr Geert van der Snickt collected a sample of excrement to test in an effort to further disprove the bird fells theory. I must admit I was a little disconcerted collecting this sample material in front of groups of tourists, he said. The X-ray diffraction pattern of the sample matched the wax, and not the bird fells. Van der Snickt acknowledged that the composition of fells is strongly dependent on the nutrition of the bird, but I sincerely doubt that Munchs painting was sprayed by birds that happened to be fond of wax.

The researchers believe that the white places on The Scream came from a dripping candle in Munchs studio. I think we can close the instance on the bird fells, they wrote.

The case of the white smudge is one of a few painting mysteries which have been solved this month. The artist Peter Doig lately won a court case proving that he did not paint a scenery signed Peter Doige. X-ray fluorescence was used to identify another face beneath Edgar Degass Portrait of a Woman as Emma Dobigny, one of the impressionists favored French models.

Such articles was amended on 31 August 2016 to clarify that the version of The Scream that sold in 2012 no longer hangs in the Museum of Modern Art.

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