PARIS (AP) _ A major exhibition of works by Edvard Munch, the Norwegian artist who once said he heard the scream in nature, has opened to a royal welcome at the Orsay Musuem.

Queen Sonja of Norway and President Francois Mitterrand inaugurated the show Monday. It runs through Jan. 5 and then moves to Oslo, Norway and Frankfurt, Germany.

''Munch and France'' features a broad selection of works which underscore the artist's close relationship with French art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

On display, along with dozens of Munch oils, drawings and lithographs, are works by French Impressionists Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Alfred Sisley and symbolist master Odile Redon.

''The Scream,'' (1893) Munch's most famous painting, sets a phantom-like figure cradling its head in its hands, mouth agape. Behind, the sky burns orange-red and meets the bright blue swirling waters.

''I felt an immense scream rip though nature. It seemed as though I heard it,'' he wrote in his diary, which is published in the exhibition catalogue for the first time.

Munch's early work fits neatly into the Impressionist mould. He experimented with the effects of sunlight on Parisian streets or quiet nature scenes and used contrasting colors applied with thick, broad strokes.

He painted people sipping coffee in smoky cafes, young women rising at dawn or a prairie in bloom.

But Munch had a darker, more sinister side. He suffered frequent bouts of depression and was preoccupied with images of death and sickness.

Swedish playwright August Strindberg, whom Munch painted on several occasions, described the artist as ''the esoteric painter of love, jealousy, death and sadness.''

For decades, critics have sought to expain Munch's sense of despair.

He was born in 1863, the son of an army doctor. His mother died when he was 5, and his sister, Sophie, 15, died when he was 14.

''Illness, madness and death hovered over my crib and stayed with me my entire life,'' he once wrote.

''Sick Child,'' (1885-86) which he painted at least 20 different times, depicts a white-faced little girl propped up in bed. Her mother sits beside her, head bowed, holding tight the small frail hand.