On 2 May 2012, during the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale at Sotheby's New York, Edvard Munch’s "The Scream," a pastel on board (79cm x 59cm; 32in x 23 1/4 in) in its original frame and dated from 1895, set a new world record for any work of art sold at auction.
Munch's masterpice was sold for $119,922,500 / £73,921,284 / € 91,033,826 (includes buyer's premium), in an evening where $330,568,550 marked the highest-ever total for an auction of Impressionist & Modern Art at Sotheby’s Worldwide.
A group of at least eight bidders showed interest in Edvard Munch's painting, but it would be an over 12 minutes long battle between two highly determined phone bidders that would settle the final selling price.
This is one of only four versions of the work in existence and widely regarded as the best. An oil version from 1893 is in the National Gallery in Oslo, while the Munch museum holds another oil version from 1910 and a pastel one.
The Scream is considered an iconic work of art and one of the visual keys to the modern consciousness, in the sense that expresses "...the horrifying moment when man realizes his impact on nature and the irreversible changes that he has initiated, making the planet increasingly uninhabitable." (in the words of Petter Fredrik Olsen)
Petter Olsen, the previous owner of this version of The Scream, decided that it was time to make the painting accessible to the general public. He inherited the work as part of an art collection that included other Munch's works assembled by his father Thomas Fredrik Olsen, of whom he was a friend and patron.
With the money resulting from the auction, Petter intends to build a museum in Hvitsten, Norway, where Munch once owned property and near where Olsen has an estate, to house the rest of his father's collection.
“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” (The artist’s hand-painted inscription on the frame of the present work.)
Several other important works of art made part of the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale, including: Pablo Picasso’s Dora Maar titled Femme assise dans un fauteuil $29,202,500); Joan Miro’s Tête humaine from 1931 ($14,866,500) and Paul Gauguin’s Cabane sous les arbres ($8,482,500). All from Theodore J. Forstmann's art collection.
A Salvador Dali's Printemps nécrophilique from 1936, which has not appeared on the market in nearly 15 years, achieved $16,322,500, a group of five gouaches by René Magritte from a private European collection totaled $4,588,500 and Max Ernst’s 1940 depiction of his lover and fellow Surrealist Leonora Carrington titled Leonora in the Morning Light, sold for $7,992,500.
From an important European collection, Constantin Brancusi's Prométhée achieved $12,682,500, while a group of pieces by Auguste Rodin – including four lifetime casts – totaled $5,878,000.
This was without a doubt a memorable evening for Sotheby's auction house and an evidence that despite of all the world crisis that we're going through, there's alot of money set aside.
Next year will take place the 150th anniversary celebrations in Norway of the birth of Edvard Munch (1863-1944).
Although the value payed for Edvard Munch's work is out of reach for the mere mortal, it dims when compared with the staggering sum of €190 million (£158 million, $250 million) payed last year for Cézanne's painting "The Card Players."