Edvard Munch’s The Scream may be one of the most recognizable images in art history, but the British Museum thinks most people have got it all wrong.
The figure isn’t screaming—he’s hearing a scream, the curator of a new exhibit tells the Telegraph.
This debate has actually been going on for years, but the museum says Munch’s own words make things clear. As Quartz explains, the museum is featuring a rare black-and-white lithograph that predates the more famous later painting.
Below the lithograph, Munch wrote: “I felt the great scream throughout nature.” He was referring to the anxiety he felt one day while walking in nature when the sky turned red. Basically, the figure is hearing, or sensing, a scream from nature, according to this interpretation.
The inscription “makes clear that Munch’s most famous artwork depicts a person hearing a ‘scream’ and not, as many people continue to assume and debate, a person screaming,” says Giulia Bartrum of the museum.
“He was trying to capture an emotion or moment in time. Through the inscription we know how he felt. People think this is a screaming person, but that’s not what is going on.”
Both the Telegraph and Quartz stories include the views of those who aren’t entirely convinced. “It is a question of interpretation,” says the former head of the Munch Museum in Oslo.