‘The Scream’ By Edvard Munch Sells At Auction For $119.9 Million

Art Attack

The famous painting The Scream by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch sold at auction yesterday for a record breaking price of $119.9 million dollars — the most ever paid for a painting sold at auction. There are 4 versions of The Scream painting but 3 of them are owned by museums in Oslo. The 4th painting sold at auction yesterday was the only one privately owned and, therefore, in high demand. I know you don’t see many posts about art here on the blog (well, except for the masterful artwork by Courtney Love, that is) but I think the sale of The Scream is definitely worth talking about today.

Norwegian painter Edvard Munch set a record Wednesday when his 1895 pastel of a terrified man clutching his cheeks along an Oslo fjord, “The Scream,” sold for $119.9 million at Sotheby’s — the most ever paid for a work of art at auction. The price surpasses the $106.5 million spent two years ago for Pablo Picasso’s 1932 portrait of his mistress, “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust,” as well as an earlier record of $104.3 million for Alberto Giacometti’s 1960 spindly bronze sculpture, “Walking Man I.” In a dogged contest at the auction house’s New York saleroom, the bidding for Munch’s “Scream” began at $40 million and shot up quickly, with five bidders from the U.S. and China competing for the sunset-colored portrait. But as the price topped $80 million, the fight came down to a pair of telephone bidders and the room, hushed as a church service, whispered as the bids logged higher. When the bidding crossed the $100 million mark, an auction first, auctioneer Tobias Meyer adjusted his tuxedo jacket and told the bidders, “Can I say I love you?” The room chuckled. After 12 minutes, the gavel fell and Charlie Moffett, a Sotheby’s specialist who often represents American buyers, fielded the anonymous winning phone bid. The Munch was considered a plum as much for its rarity as for its pop-culture ubiquity. One of four versions of “The Scream” that Munch created, this was the only one not in an Oslo museum and the first to come up at auction. The image has been reproduced on everything from ice-cream containers to the villain’s mask in Wes Craven’s “Scream” horror films. The work had been expected to sell for about $80 million. Sale prices, unlike estimates, include the auction house’s commission, which is 25% on the first $50,000, then 20% up to $1 million and 12% above $1 million. Sotheby’s said its share of the “Scream” was $12.9 million. The sale reflects the trophy-hunting atmosphere buoying the global art market, as billionaires vie for the few masterpieces that come up for sale any given season. Bragging rights are at stake, but their collective bidding has also helped recalibrate price levels for dozens of top artists … “The Scream” comes from the collection of Petter Olsen, a Norwegian real-estate developer and shipping heir who grew up with the work in the living room of his childhood home. His father, Thomas Olsen, a neighbor of Munch’s in the small Norwegian town of Hvitsten, bought the work from the German coffee magnate who likely commissioned it. During World War II, Mr. Olsen said his family hid the piece, along with dozens of other Munch artworks, in a hay barn to protect them from the Nazis, who were destroying artworks they deemed degenerate. Mr. Olsen has said he offered to sell “The Scream” now in order to fund a museum of Munch’s work in Hvitsten to open next year … The third in a series created between 1893 and 1910, Sotheby’s version was created with pastel on rough board and offered in its original frame, which is inscribed with an 1892 poem Munch wrote that inspired the work. In the poem, he says he was walking beside that fjord when he sensed “an infinite scream passing through nature.”

The Scream was the first work of art that I really loved when I became aware of art in my teens. Now, that’s not to say that I am a big art lover now but I think we all can look back on a particular work of art and consider it the first important piece that really resonated with us individually. If memory serves, I even hung a professionally framed poster of The Scream in my bedroom along side my other posters and photos. I was lucky enough to see one of The Scream paintings when it was on loan to the Detroit Institue of Art. I can’t say that I’m surprised that this painting was sold at auction for so much money. It is not only a very important piece but it is truly one of the most recognizable paintings in the world, rivaling the Mona Lisa in terms of pop culture importance. The sale of the only privately owned version of The Scream is definitely worth mentioning in terms of its pop culture significance alone. I can’t say that I would ever want to shell out almost $120 million to own the painting because I was just happy owning a nicely framed $13 poster :) Still, congrats to the new owner. I hope they will be very happy with this very important piece of art.

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  1. That is awesome!! One of my favorite dark painting is The Perro semihundido(spelling) at the Prado. I have a huge print of it on my wall. I love it!

  2. I don’t think this is the version most of us usually see. This face is very different. Does anyone know which version this is and how many versions there are?

    • @Brad — As the quoted article says: “One of four versions of “The Scream” that Munch created, this was the only one not in an Oslo museum and the first to come up at auction. … The third in a series created between 1893 and 1910, Sotheby’s version was created with pastel on rough board and offered in its original frame, which is inscribed with an 1892 poem Munch wrote that inspired the work.”

    • Trent, thanks a lot for the info. Glad to have it.

  3. AmandaPalmina

    I love that there are multiple versions because it allows everyone to see the painting that’s in the museum but then this seller will have one that is slightly different, making it even more interesting.

    • Thanks Amanda. Maybe we can find out how MANY versions there are, where they are, what they’re worth compared to this one, etc.

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