Mystery behind hidden ‘madman’ message on The Scream painting is finally solved

A mystery hidden message found inside one of the most iconic paintings in world art has been solved.

The inscription on Edvard Munch's The Scream was written by the artist himself, a new investigation has found.

It read: "Can only have been painted by a madman." The scrawled writing was barely visible in the top left-hand corner of the 1893 masterpiece and has been the subject of fervent debate for decades.

Previously, it was widely believed to have been an act of vandalism by a viewer of the painting, but extensive research by the National Museum of Norway revealed that Munch wrote the phrase himself.

The worrying message may give an insight into Munch's state of mind when he painted The Scream.

Curators used infrared technology to analyse the message, which was added on top of the finished painting, comparing it with the artist's notes and letters.

They also studied events around the time of the work's first public showing.

Museum curator Mai Britt Guleng said: "The writing is without a doubt Munch's own.

"The handwriting itself, as well as events that happened in 1895, when Munch showed the painting in Norway for the first time, all point in the same direction."

The painting has been undergoing extensive conservation ahead of a public showing.

It has rarely been exhibited and has twice been stolen, once in 1994 and again in 2004. Both times it was recovered with limited damage.

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Mr Guleng believes Munch made the marking in 1895 after attending a meeting where a student said the painting must be the work of someone who was mentally disturbed.

The curator added: "It's a combination of being ironic, but also showing his vulnerability.

"He is actually taking this very seriously and he is hurt because there is a history of illness in his family, and he was very anxious, but he showed himself be marked by it."

The Norwegian artist, who died in January 1944 aged 80, spent much of his childhood dreading inheriting a mental condition which ran in his family.

A pastel version of the painting fetched nearly $120 million (£86 million) from an anonymous buyer at a Sotheby’s auction in New York in 2012.

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