Edvard Munch’s masterpiece “The Scream,” one of the world’s most recognizable works of art, sold for $120 million at Sotheby’s, setting a new record as the most expensive piece of art ever sold at auction.
Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern art auction featured top works by Picasso, Dali and Miro, but Munch’s vibrant work from 1895 was the star attraction in a salesroom packed with art collectors, dealers and media.
The vibrant pastel was conservatively estimated to sell for about $80 million, but two determined bidders competing via telephone emerged from an initial group of seven, driving the final price to $107 million, or $119,922,500 including commission, over the course of a nearly 15-minute bidding war.
The winning bid was taken by a Sotheby’s executive, and the bidder was not identified. One of four versions by the Scandinavian painter, sold by Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen, “The Scream” easily eclipsed the old auction record held by Picasso’s “Nude, green leaves and bust,” which sold for $106.5 million at Christie’s two years ago.
The sales room at Sotheby’s erupted in applause and cheering when the hammer came down. Several Sotheby’s officials said the sale marked the high point of their careers. “It’s worth every penny that the collector paid,” said Tobias Meyer, who served as auctioneer and called it “one of the great icons” of fine art.
In recent decades “The Scream,” which depicts a figure with hands pressed to head against a backdrop of swirling colors, has become a ubiquitous image, appropriated for everything from coffee mugs to editorial cartoons.
For many mainstream art lovers, it is perhaps second in familiarity only to the “Mona Lisa,” and is among the best-known works of art still in private hands.
Sotheby’s New York head of Impressionist and Modern art Simon Shaw called it “one of the visual keys to modern consciousness,” adding that it was “perhaps the greatest single draw I’ve seen in my career” at the auction house.
Sotheby’s said the pastel-on-board version of ”The Scream” 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, detailing the work’s inspiration. In the poem, Munch described himself ”shivering with anxiety” and said he felt ”the great scream in nature.”
Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen, whose father was a friend and patron of the artist, said he sold the piece through Sotheby’s because he felt ”the moment has come to offer the rest of the world the chance to own and appreciate this remarkable work.”
”I have lived with this work all my life, and its power and energy have only increased with time,” Olsen said. Proceeds from the sale will go toward the establishment of a new museum, art center and hotel in Hvitsten, Norway, where Olsen’s father and Munch were neighbors. Olsen said he was pleased with the auction sale and hoped publicity surrounding it would increase public interest in Munch’s work.
A total of nine works now have sold for $80 million or more at auction, according to Sotheby’s. Besides ”The Scream” and Picasso’s ”Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust,” only two other works have sold for more than $100 million at auction. Those are Picasso’s ”Boy With a Pipe (The Young Apprentice)” for $104.1 million in 2004 and Alberto Giacometti’s ”Walking Man I” for $104.3 million in 2010.