A long-time art world mystery has been solved. A hidden message exists in Edvard Munch’s famous painting “The Scream”. Written in pencil in the corner of the painting reads, “Can only have been painted by a madman”.
Who could have wrote such a thing? A vandal? Someone who hated Munch’s work?
Ends up, it’s the artist who wrote the phrase in frustration. After his painting was rejected at a hometown critique, he let out his frustration and wrote the sarcastic phrase on his painting. Then, many years later, the painting becomes world-famous.
Makes me want to put that phrase on my art. Yeah, you think I’m nuts! I’ll show you I’m nuts, I’ll admit it right on top of the artwork! There!
Make your own #MunchMadman meme!
If you’d like to go all-out-Munch on your artwork, here’s his pencil-written sentence as a downloadable PNG with a transparent background (or for a super high-res version, download a vector-based SVG file).
Since the phrase is in Danish, it’s like a secret code to most people. The slightly messy handwriting of Edvard Munch adds to its indecipherable quality. Download the image and put the phrase onto your artwork. Show off that you are indeed an artistic genius beyond the comprehension of standard society.
Also, make sure to tag your image with #MunchMadman
What if other historical artists put “painted by a madman” into their art? Let’s look at Monet, van Gogh, Cézanne, Kandinsky, Homer, Mondrian, Rembrandt, and de Toulouse-Lautrec.
(Disclaimer: I photoshopped this phrase onto public domain artwork from the Art Institute of Chicago. I’m doing this as a fun meme. This phrase doesn’t actually exist on the following paintings.)
Vincent van Gogh
If any artist would be a madman, it would be Vincent van Gogh. Here’s how the phrase would look inscribed on the wall in his famous bedroom painting.
Most people don’t think of Monet as being a madman. But the capturer of light and obsessively painted water lilies. A critic back in his day called his work, “L’Exposition des Impressionnistes”—which is where we get the phrase Impressionists.
Generally credited as the pioneer of modern art, Kandinsky said all forms of art were equally capable of reaching a level of spirituality. A painting playing the sounds of music visually? Madness!
Today this looks like a nice still life painting. Back in Cézanne’s day, this was crazy—painting in simplified shapes from multiple viewpoints—starting the roots of cubism.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
To be fair, I think Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was actually crazy. Here the inscription is slated along the diagonal bar.
Vincent van Gogh x2
Back to van Gogh again. This time with his self-portrait. If you’re going to say that you are a mad man, might as well emblazon it on your forehead.
The dichotomy of this painting being mad is quite beautiful. One the one hand, the grid and straight lines screams conformity. But given in the art history context, this sort of thing is crazy.
No hiding this quote on a Mondrian.
Rembrandt van Rijn
Edvard Munch, being Dutch, wrote the phrase in Danish. Rembrandt was also Dutch, so it makes sense that Rembrandt would write it in Danish too.
Let’s be totally crazy and go back to 1636. Slap it right onto a self-portrait where you are giving peering in the soul of the viewer. Madman? You decide!
Except this isn’t a painting. But whatever.
Egyptian Middle Kingdom, early Dynasty 12
Whoa. The Egyptians in the second century BC did this too?! Well, y’know. Hieroglyphics. Those are kinda crazy. And it would be crazy if an Egyptian back then actually knew Danish.
Whoa, look at all these people and cultures putting “I’m a madman” on their art! 😉 Maybe you can join them!
Translation of ‘Kan Kun være malet af en gal Mand!’ from Danish into English
Wait—what exactly does this phrase say? It’s not written in English. Correct.
The original phrase is in Danish: “Kan Kun være malet af en gal Mand!”
Translated into English: “Can only have been painted by a madman!”
If you are are putting this on your art, it might be a good idea to know how this translates.
- Kan: Can
- Kun: only
- være: be
- malet: painted
- af: of
- en: a
- gal: mad
- Mand: man
If you do a Google image search for “gal Mand”, you’ll get some fun results. Like this movie poster for “Quadrophenia”, with the soundtrack by The Who.
When someone sees “Kan Kun være malet af en gal Mand!” on your art, they’ll ask, “what does this say?”
You’ll want to be able to whip out your Danish correctly. Learn how to say this phrase on Google Translate.
The female voice for Danish on Google Translate is expressed straightforward and deadpanned—just like how you should say it out loud.
I don’t condone insanity. But I do embrace creativity and thinking as an individual. We are only “mad people” in the context of a standardized world. Go ahead, think different, be nice, and have fun.
Using #MunchMadman hashtag
If you use the PNG or SVG file on something, please tag it with #MunchMadman, so I can find and enjoy your insanity.
I thought, since I am from Iceland that when I noticed it it said “could you be the painting of a mad man/mind” schocking stuff 🙂