One evening in 1892, Norwegian artist Edvard Munch took a walk with two friends in Oslo. As the sun went down, “the sky turned blood-red,” and Munch felt “a great infinite scream” go through nature, the painter later wrote.
Inspired by that poignant moment, Munch painted The Scream the following year. The work depicts a haunting, mysterious figure with hands on either side of its face, its mouth open in an apparent shriek. One of the most famous paintings of all time, its renown is on par with Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers.
Now, Munch’s iconic painting—and several other of the artist’s works—is getting a new home at the new $650 million National Museum, which opens in Oslo this week. Located across from Oslo’s city hall on the edge of a fjord, the massive new Nasjonalmuseet facility—one of the largest museums in Europe by size—brings together four of Norway’s main art and design institutions: the National Gallery, the Museum of Architecture, the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
“Norwegian politicians decided to bring these four collections into one to have an institution that was able to tell the whole story from antiquity up until today about visual arts and culture,” Karin Hindsbo, the National Museum’s director, tells the Art Newspaper’s Lee Cheshire.
Born in 1863, Munch struggled with mental illness and often depicted themes like love, death, despair and sexuality in his work. After the National Gallery closed in 2019, the public lost access to some of the artist's most famous works, including The Scream. The new museum, however, will have an entire room dedicated to Munch, with 18 paintings—among them, The Girls on the Bridge, Self-Portrait With Cigarette, The Sick Child, The Dance of Life, Ashes and Death in the Sickroom—on display. Staffers are hanging even more Munch works in the adjacent hallway.
Over its 129-year history, The Scream spent a brief stint in the hands of criminals, who broke into the National Gallery in 1994 and stole the painting off the wall, leaving a cheeky note in their wake: “Thousand thanks for the poor security.” Fortunately, the painting resurfaced three months later at a hotel in Åsgårdstrand, and authorities convicted four perpetrators in connection with its theft. In 2004, a separate set of thieves actually stole another version of The Scream, which was recovered two years later.
Visitors can indulge in even more Munch if they wander over to the Munch Museum, which moved to a new location in October 2021. Home to nearly 28,000 works created by Munch, Rolf Stenersen, Amaldus Nielsen and Ludvig O. Ravensberg, the new facility also has several versions of The Scream in its collection, which are displayed on a rotating basis.
At 584,480 square feet, Norway’s new museum has plenty of room for the works of Munch and many others. Norwegian artists like Johan Christian Dahl and Harriet Backer also get their own dedicated rooms within the facility.
Roughly 6,500 items—a small selection of the nation’s collection of 400,000 sculptures, architectural models, paintings, textiles, furniture and other works—are on view in 87 galleries spread across two floors, reports ARTnews’ Sarah Belmont. The museum’s permanent collection, which curators have painstakingly organized by theme in a chronological timeline, takes up around 140,000 square feet of space. Temporary exhibitions will rotate through the museum’s top floor.
With the impressive new facility, which took eight years to build, Norwegian leaders hope to elevate the country’s arts and culture prowess, especially when compared to its Scandinavian neighbors. After all, Hindsbo tells the New York Times’ Thomas Rogers, the country is “so much more than fjords and mountains.”