A mysterious smudge on the Norwegian National Gallery’s versions of Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream has plagued art experts for years. Was it intentionally placed there by Munch himself, or was it simply the remains of a bird dropping? Now they know.
Advanced methods of analysis have revealed that the smudge, located just below the right shoulder of the screaming figure in the painting, is the remains of candle wax that likely was blown onto the painting at some point.
Museum officials used a scanner to analyze the painting to determine how Munch built it up. In the process, which included use of a high-powered microscope, they could also determine it was wax from a candle probably placed near the painting years ago, before it became so famous.
Professor Tine Frøysaker of the University of Oslo told state broadcaster NRK on Monday that speculation the smudge might have been from a bird dropping was plausible. She said Munch’s atelier in Oslo was known for being “incredibly messy, with his paintings flung around,” and some even landing outside.