Does The Scream depict a real-life volcano explosion?

Illustration for article titled Does The Scream depict a real-life volcano explosion?

The explosion from the Krakatau volcano in 1883 was so strong that it unleashed a 130-foot tsunami and turned the skies red for months. But is it also responsible for this famous painting by Edvard Munch?


Munch painted The Scream in 1893, ten years after the volcano erupted in Indonesia. Researchers in Sky & Telescope have suggested that he was actually depicting the explosion, which would have been visible to him even in Norway. In a Q&A today, USGS volcanologist Charles Mandeville explained just how the explosion could have created a sky not unlike the one Munch depicted — and why it's not the only work of art that depicts the volcanic eruption:

The sky in The Scream could actually be caused by ash in the stratosphere from the Krakatau 1883 eruption because fine ash tends to scatter shorter blue-violet wavelengths of light, and the remaining spectrum getting through is dominated by longer wavelength red to orange portions of the spectrum. There are also paintings by William Ashcroft in England during the Fall of 1883 after the August 26-27th eruption of Krakatau that show vivid red sunsets as a result of ash injection to the stratosphere. As a matter of fact the 1883 eruption and eyewitness accounts of atmospheric phenomena following that eruption taught us quite a bit about stratospheric wind circulation patterns. The ash from Kraktau circled the globe in about two weeks following the event, then spread both north and south into both hemispheres.

Image: Edvard Munch's The Scream / Nasjonalmuseet


It is believable. If not a direct experience of the volcano certainly its effects.

Krakatau caused changes in sunlight and had particles that stayed in the atmosphere for years. This effected sunlight and sunsets. This is also measured on the ground in the number of deaths and the recording of the explosive shock wave around the world on barographs.

The explosion was so loud it put the British Navy in Australia, (two thousand miles away), on alert as they though it may be an invasion or battle. (the Russians were suspect at the time)

Indonesia now has Anak Krakatau (Child of Krakatau) which formed in 1927. Having witnessed eruptions, climbed on many and slept on a few of them they are dangerous, rumbling powerful places. Don't even get me started on Lake Toba.

pic-Lithograph from 1888.