This work is based on Edvard Munch's 1893-95 lithograph The Scream. Commissioned as an edition print, which was never published, it is one of an unspecified number of unique colour variants of this image.
Warhol's appropriation of Munch's iconic Scream (1893) can be seen within the context of the pop artist's exploration of famous images from the history of art. Just as he had looked to popular culture and everyday objects for inspiration during the 1960s and 70s, transforming the seemingly banal into works of art, so he now reversed the process and turned his attention to the stars of the canon of art history, subjecting them to the Warhol 'machine'. The series defined as Art from Art saw Warhol use images by Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Cranach and Uccello, as well as other images by Munch including Eva Mudocci (see lot 176), Self-portrait with Skeleton and Arm and Madonna.
Warhol's Scream is immediately recognisable as an appropriation of Munch's original version. However, beyond the obvious visual affinity, the similarities cease. Munch's Scream (see fig. 1) is a tortured and emotionally-charged expression of the innermost soul, an existential cry against the pitiable condition of modern man. Warhol was not interested in the emotional content, he did not seek to provoke deep contemplation in the viewer. Instead, he took the image at face value, investing his energies in communicating the superficial printed surface, stripping the image of meaning just as he had done in his Race Riots, Electric Chairs and Death and Disaster series.
Warhol saw in the Scream, an image that was unanimously identifiable and formed part of the universal consciousness. As such, it was the perfect vehicle for Warhol's vision. Whilst his use of the image reveals an inherent reverence to its creator and acknowledges Munch's importance in the history of art, Warhol's treatment of the work turns it into a commercial object, one that can be mass-produced and disseminated. This last idea appealed to Warhol's notion of art as commodity and to his art practice as mechanical. It is also telling that Warhol used Munch's print of the Scream, rather than the painting, as his primary source for both his paintings and prints of his version. In doing so, Warhol at once acknowledges his desire for reproducibility and perhaps felt that Munch's printed work offered him a source that was most akin to his own ambitions.
It has been suggested that Warhol's choice to embark upon a project such as the Scream at this time in his life reflects his own anxieties about mortality. Even in the polished sleek superficiality of this screenprint, Warhol hints at the inner turmoil troubling his thoughts. Just as his self-portraits of this period take on a more sombre and fatalistic mood, so too do the works after Munch explore a certain tension and uncertainty in Warhol's life.
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