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Munch’s ‘The Scream’ Sets World Record for Any Work of Art at Auction at $120M

by WorthPoint Staff (05/03/12).

Edvard Munch’s iconic masterpiece “The Scream” sold for $119,922,500, setting a new world record for any work of art at auction.

NEW YORK – Twelve minutes may not sound like a long time, but Wednesday night, when eight people were fighting to outbid each other to win one of the most well-known paintings in the world, it seemed like ages. In the end, it came down to a prolonged battle between two highly determined phone bidders that carried the final selling price to its historic level.

When it was said and done, auction history was made at Sotheby’s in New York City when Edvard Munch’s iconic masterpiece “The Scream” sold for $119,922,500 (£73,921,284 / €91,033,826), setting a new world record for any work of art at auction. The previous record for a work of art at auction was held by Pablo Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust,” which sold at Christie’s New York in May 2010 for $106,482,500.

Overall, the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale totaled a remarkable $330,568,550— Sotheby’s highest-ever total for a sale of Impressionist & Modern Art worldwide and the second-highest total for a Sotheby’s auction in any category, falling some $30 short of that mark set in a May 2008 auction that totaled $362,037,000.

“If ever there was a work of art of true shock and awe it is Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream,’ which is not only one of the seminal images from art history, but also one of the visual keys to the modern consciousness,” said Simon Shaw, senior vice president and head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art department in New York.

“‘The Scream’ is worth every penny that the collector paid for it,” said Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s worldwide head of Contemporary Art and the evening’s auctioneer. “It is one of the great icons of art in the world, and whoever bought it should be congratulated. Tonight was a historic night for Sotheby’s, and I am very happy to have been part of it. This evening’s sale was a dream for an auctioneer, and to be able to sell ‘The Scream’ for more than $100 million dollars hammer was a moment that I cherish as an auctioneer, and also a very proud moment for Sotheby’s.”

As the defining image of the Expressionist movement, “The Scream” stands as a pivotal work in the history of art. Munch created the image in the mid-1890s as the central element of his celebrated Frieze of Life series. The powerfully-rendered, blood-red sky presents the viewer with the reality of Munch’s experience at the moment he is gripped by anxiety in the hills above Oslo. Like his Dutch contemporary, Vincent van Gogh, Munch’s desire was to paint a new form of reality rooted in psychological experience, rather than visual. It is this projection of Munch’s mental state that was so artistically innovative—a landscape of the mind—whose impact is still felt in the art of today.

Pablo Picasso’s Dora Maar titled “Femme assise dans un fauteuil,” which achieved $29,202,500 and marked the second-highest price in the sale.

An icon of global visual culture, “The Scream” is instantly recognizable from Beijing to Moscow to New York. Since its creation at the turn of the 20th century, the provocative work has only gained relevance and impact over time. The haunting composition stands as the visual embodiment of modern anxiety and existential dread, referenced by everyone from Andy Warhol to “The Simpsons.” Munch and “The Scream” have been the subject of countless books, scholarly articles, films and museum exhibitions.

Munch created four versions of “The Scream.” The one sold Wednesday night dates from 1895 was the only version still in private hands. The prime example, worked in 1893 from tempera and crayon on board, is in the National Gallery of Norway; another pastel version from the same year is thought to be a preliminary sketch for the work, and is owned by the Munch Museum in Oslo; the present work from the Olsen Collection, created in 1895 from pastel on board, most closely follows the prime composition in the National Gallery; and a later version in tempera and oil on board, thought to be completed in 1910, is also in the collection of the Munch Museum. In addition, Munch created a lithograph of the image in 1895, which helped initiate the process of its mass proliferation.

Of the four versions of the work, the present “The Scream” is distinguished in several remarkable ways: it is the most colorful and vibrant of the four; the only version whose original frame was hand-painted by the artist to include his poem detailing the work’s inspiration; and the only version in which one of the two figures in the background turns to look outward onto the cityscape. This version has never before been on public view in either the United States or the United Kingdom, except briefly in the National Gallery in Washington D.C. decades ago.

“The Scream” has been in the collection of the Olsen family for more than 70 years. Thomas Olsen, scion of the great ship-owning dynasty, was a collector and supporter of Munch from the late 1920s. Olsen and the artist were neighbors at Hvitsten in Norway, where the young businessman’s role grew from friend to patron and eventually to protector of his works.

All but one of the 17 works from the estate of legendary financier Theodore J. Forstmann were sold in tonight’s auction, with the group totaling $83,012,000—well within its $64.4/96.2 million estimate.

Salvador Dalí's “Printemps nécrophilique” achieved $16,322,500, well in excess of its $12-million high estimate.

The selection of paintings, sculpture and works on paper were led by Pablo Picasso’s Dora Maar titled “Femme assise dans un fauteuil,” which achieved $29,202,500 and marked the second-highest price in the sale. Additional highlights from Forstmann’s collection included Joan Miro’s “Tête humaine” from 1931 that sold for $14,866,500 (presale estimate of $10-$15 million), and Paul Gauguin’s “Cabane sous les arbres” that brought $8,482,500 above a high estimate of $7 million.

A superb offering of Surrealist works in the evening sale was led by Salvador Dalí’s “Printemps nécrophilique” from 1936, which has not appeared on the market in nearly 15 years. The work achieved $16,322,500, well in excess of its $12-million high estimate. A group of five gouaches by René Magritte from a private European collection totaled a strong $4,588,500, in excess of their cumulative high estimate of $3.8 million, while Max Ernst’s 1940 depiction of his lover and fellow Surrealist Leonora Carrington titled” Leonora in the Morning Light” outperformed expectations in selling for $7,992,500 above a high estimate of $5 million.

Strong prices for sculpture in the New York auction were led by a group of works from an important European collection, featuring rare examples by Constantin Brancusi and Auguste Rodin. Brancusi’s “Prométhée” achieved $12,682,500, more than double its $6 million low estimate, while a group of pieces by Rodin—including four lifetime casts—totaled $5,878,000, above their overall high estimate of $5.3 million.

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