Lasse Jacobsen, a research librarian at the Munch Museum in Oslo who works with Munch’s collected writings, confirmed Guleng’s findings. The infrared photographs, he said, made it “much easier to see the words, and there are some letters in his handwriting that are really distinct, like the N, or the D, which turns up at the end. So when I saw it there I thought, ‘This is Munch.’”
The 2008 Munch catalog raisonné, a comprehensive study of his works by the art historian Gerd Woll, suggested that the phrase had been scrawled by a vandal. “At least that is how it was perceived in 1904,” when it was exhibited in Copenhagen, she writes, “that a tactless hand has written in pencil.” In an email to The New York Times, Woll said that the new evidence from Guleng “strongly points to Munch himself as the writer.”
While the National Museum in Norway was in the process of restoring and examining the work in preparation for the opening of its new museum in 2022, Guleng took the opportunity to resolve the question about the text.
“It was strange to me that there was such little curiosity about this inscription, because it is a very peculiar thing to write on your own painting,” she said.
Munch probably wrote the sentence on his painting in 1895, according to Guleng, after his exhibition of new work at the Blomqvist gallery in Oslo. During a debate about the exhibition at the University of Oslo’s Students Association one night, a medical student, Johan Scharffenberg said the artwork gave him reason to question the artist’s mental state, calling Munch abnormal and a “madman.” Munch was deeply hurt, said Jacobsen, and wrote about it even decades later.
Guleng believes the inscription is written with irony and reflects both pain at being attacked and fear of being regarded as mentally ill. “By writing this inscription in the clouds, he took possession, in a way, or he took control of how he was to be perceived and understood,” she said.