Sotheby’s New York sold Edvard Munch’s 1895 “The Scream” for $119.9 million on Wednesday night, setting a record for the most expensive artwork sold at auction, reports LA Times.
The price eclipsed the previous record, made two years ago at Christie’s in New York when Picasso’s 1932 “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” brought $106.5 million.
According to The Telegraph, two anonymous telephone bidders went head to head from about the $80 million mark and slowly inched into world record territory.
Rumors before the sale focused on interest from the royal family of Qatar.
The New York Times reports that gasps could be heard as the bidding climbed higher and higher, until there was a pause at $99 million, prompting Tobias Meyer, the evening’s auctioneer, to smile and say, “I have all the time in the world.” When $100 million was bid, the audience began to applaud.
“It’s worth every penny that the collector paid,” said Tobias Meyer who called it “one of the great icons” of fine art.
Munch created four versions of “The Scream.” Three are now in Norwegian museums; the one that sold on Wednesday, a pastel on board from 1895, was the only one still in private hands.
Two versions weren stolen while on display but have since been recovered.
The first owner of the work sold at Sotheby’s was German chicory and coffee mogul Arthur von Franquet, a patron who also owned Munch’s 1892 painting “Girl by the Window,” now at the Art Institute of Chicago.
The second owner of “The Scream” was the Berlin banker and art collector Hugo Simon, who sold it through an art dealer around 1937 to Norwegian ship owner Thomas Olsen, a friend, neighbor and patron of the artist.
The masterpiece was put on the market by Petter Olsen who said: “The image of ‘The Scream’ could make more of us fathom the magnitude of the consequences of our continuing emissions of greenhouse gases.”
“For me, (it) shows the horrifying moment when man realizes his impact on nature and the irreversible changes that he has initiated, making the planet increasingly uninhabitable.”
The version sold last night contains a poem about the work – written in the artist’s own hand – on the frame.
It reads: “I was walking along the road with two Friends / the Sun was setting – The Sky turned a bloody red / And I felt a whiff of Melancholy – I stood / Still, deathly tired – over the blue-black / Fjord and City hung Blood and Tongues of Fire / My Friends walked on – I remained behind / – shivering with Anxiety – I felt the great Scream in Nature – EM.”
For many mainstream art lovers, “The Scream” is perhaps second in familiarity only to the “Mona Lisa,” and is among the best-known works of art still in private hands.
It inspired tributes from other artists, including Andy Warhol. And it gave rise to the Scream series of horror films in which the murderer wears a mask depicting the screaming face.
Overall, the sale brought in $330.6 million, against an estimate of about $245 million to $325 million, and 80 percent of the 76 lots on offer found buyers.
The total was Sotheby’s highest-ever for an Impressionist and Modern auction, beating the old mark of $286 million, which had stood since 1990. It was also the auction house’s second-best evening in its history.