Scientists have finally figured out why Edvard Munch’s iconic painting, The Scream, continues to deteriorate. According to a new paper published by Science Advances, the artwork is fading due to the use of a low-quality cadmium-sulfide paint.
The paint used by Munch in 1910 is susceptible to moisture, so much so that low-level humidity from human breath can negatively impact its appearance.
“It turned out that rather than use pure cadmium sulphide as he should have done, apparently he also used a dirty version, a not very clean version that contained chlorides,” Koen Janssens, a professor at the University of Antwerp who worked on the study, told The Guardian. “I don’t think it was an intentional use–I think he just bought a not very high level of paint. This is 1910 and at that point the chemical industry producing the chemical pigments is there but it doesn’t mean they have the quality control of today.”
As ARTnews points out, the yellow paint featured in the painting’s sunset, lake, and iconic figure has been both fading and flaking for years. The artwork was also damaged when it was stolen in 2004, but after being recovered in 2006, it has been held in a light- and temperature-controlled storage unit the majority of the time.
As most of us are now accustomed to social distancing due to the coronavirus pandemic, we may be forced to implement similar practices for viewing artwork going forward.