Edvard Munch – The Scream sets auction record

New York: Edvard Munch`s iconic painting `The Scream`, considered one of the most recognizable in art world, was sold for over USD 119 million, creating a new record for the highest price ever paid for a work of art at any auction.

The painting, depicting image of a man holding his head and his mouth wide open, was sold for USD 119,922,500, which includes the premium paid to Sotheby`s at the auction held here on Wednesday.

The auction house did not release the name or any other details of the buyer. The bidder was participating in the auction through phone. "A seminal image of the pulsating anguish of modernity, The Scream is among the most recognizable images in the history of art," Sotheby`s said.

Till now Pablo Picasso`s `Nude, Green Leaves and Bust` was the most expensive painting ever sold. It was bought for USD 106.5 million at a Christie`s auction in 2010.

At over USD 119 million, Munch`s 1895 painting has become the highest-priced artwork to ever sell at auction. The painting was estimated to sell for at least USD 80 million. Bidding at the packed Sotheby`s auction started at USD 40 million with bidders from the US and China competing for the sunset-colored portrait which is in its original frame.

The painting is one of the four versions that Munch created and the only one still in private hands. The other three are housed in the National Gallery of Oslo and the Munch museum in the Norwegian capital. The painting is being sold by Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen, whose father is believed to have been Munch`s friend and neighbour.

Sotheby`s said the pastel-on-board version of the painting is the most colorful and vibrant of the four and the only version whose frame was hand- painted by the artist to include his poem, in which he talks about the inspiration for the painting.

In describing his inspiration for the image, Munch had written, "I was walking along a path with two friends – the sun was setting, suddenly the sky turned blood red, I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence, there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city, my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature."

Like Leonardo da Vinci`s `The Mona Lisa`, `The Scream` is among the best-known images in modern art. The image is of a bald man in a blue shirt with sunken cheeks, standing on a road believed to be a suicide spot on Oslo`s horseshoe-shaped bay. He is holding his head, his eyes and mouth wide open against a streaked blue and bright red background – an image which has been reproduced on paraphernalia like mugs, T-shirts and posters.

Given its immesaurable value, versions of the painting were twice stolen, first in 1994 when two thieves took one version from the National Gallery of Norway. It was stolen again in 2004, when gunmen stole the 1910 version from the Oslo-based Munch Museum.
The paintings were later recovered.

Sotheby`s spokesman David Norman said few pieces of art have crossed the USD 100 million mark at public auction. "The Scream has really entered the collective conscience, whatever nationality, whatever country, whatever attitude or age, it really sort of speaks to that sort of existential terror that everyone experiences in the world," Norman said.

Sotheby`s said proceeds from the sale are expected to go toward building a new museum, art center and hotel in Norway, where Olsen`s father and Munch were neighbours.

The Impressionist and Modern Evening sale at Sotheby`s also included a series of modern masterpieces from the collection of noted businessman and philanthropist Theodore Forstmann, including a brilliant wartime portrait by Picasso inspired by his muse, Dora Maar and one of Chaim Soutine`s most magnificent portraits, Le Chasseur de Chez Maxim`s.