The Scream is an oil painting by Edvard Munch in 1839. It is one of the most popular art work that is used in the mainstream culture. It is often used to represent the feeling of dissonance between one’s mentality with the environment.
To mere mortals it hardly seemed like a bargain but someone, somewhere, last night decided that owning a rare version of Edvard Munch’s iconic painting The Scream was worth shelling out an eye-watering 119.9 million dollars (£74m).
The price, one of the highest ever paid for a work of art and the highest for one bought at an open auction, came after just 12 minutes of bidding and was won by a so-far anonymous telephone bidder.
As the auctioneer’s gavel came down at Sotheby’s in New York the crowd in the room cheered the remarkable event. Bidding had started at a relatively modest 50 millon dollars with at least five interested parties but the field had rapidly winnowed as the price sky-rocketed.
The intense interest in the paining is mostly due to it’s huge stature in both the art world and in global popular culture. The 1895 painting, which is one of only four versions of the work in existence and widely seen as the best one, is one of a handful of artistic images that have crossed over from the world of high art to popular culture.
It has inspired film references from the knife-wielding villain of the Scream slasher movies to a famous scene in Home Alone, where child star Macauley Culkin imitated the painting’s famous pose.
It is also greatly celebrated by the therapy industry with it’s horrific depiction of stress and terror.
“This is not a a beautiful landscape in Surrey or a harbour on the French Riviera. It is a representation of extreme anxiety. Imagine if a shrink in London had this on their wall. It’s a fantastic painting for their profession. Of course, they could not afford it,” said Mark Winter, director of Munch Experts, a company which specialises in appraising and valuing works by the Norwegian expressionist.
This version is the only one whose frame was hand-painted by the artist to include his poem which explains the work’s inspiration where Munch described himself “shivering with anxiety” and feeling “the great scream in nature”.
It was sold by Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen, whose father was a friend and patron of the artist, and proceeds of the sale will fund a new museum, art centre and hotel in Hvitsten, Norway, where Olsen’s father and Munch were neighbours.
“It is a unique chance for someone to acquire this version. It is the crown jewel of the four but you really need a national budget to buy it. And not the budget of a small country either,” said Winter.
Now The Scream will join a select group of works that have sold for more than a 100 million dollars, including Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust which sold in 2010 for 106.5 million dollars.
Yet even that hefty price tag feels like a snip compared to the staggering 250 million dollars paid by oil-rich Qatar to snag Paul Cezanne’s The Card Players for a new art museum. Details of that deal only emerged earlier this year, but it was struck in 2011.
Simon Shaw, head of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art in New York, said the work was one of the most important to ever emerge from private hands on to the open market. “Instantly recognisable this is one of the very few images which transcends art history and reaches a global icon. The Scream arguably embodies even greater power today than when it was conceived,” he said.
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