‘The Scream’ Is Auctioned for a Record $119.9 Million
By CAROL VOGEL
Published: May 2, 2012
It took 12 nail-biting minutes and five eager bidders for Edvard Munch’s famed 1895 pastel of “The Scream” to sell for $119.9 million, becoming the world’s most expensive work of art ever to sell at auction.
Bidders could be heard speaking Chinese and English (and, some said, Norwegian), but the mystery winner bid over the phone, through Charles Moffett, Sotheby’s executive vice president and vice chairman of its worldwide Impressionist, modern and contemporary art department. 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.
The price eclipsed the previous record, made two years ago at Christie’s in
when Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” brought $106.5 million. New York
Munch made 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. It was sold by Petter Olsen, a Norwegian businessman and shipping heir whose father was a friend, neighbor and patron of the artist.
The image has been reproduced endlessly in popular culture in recent decades, becoming a universal symbol of angst and existential dread and nearly as famous as the Mona Lisa.
Outside of Sotheby’s, there was excitement of a different kind, as demonstrators protesting the company’s longtime lockout of art handlers waved placards with the image of “The Scream” along with the motto, “Sotheby’s: Bad for Art.” Many in the group — a mix of union members and
Occupy Wall Street
protesters — even screamed themselves when the Munch went on the block.
(Munch’s work was an apt focus for the group, said one protester, Yates McKee:
“It exemplifies the ways in which objects of artistic creativity become the
exclusive province of the 1 percent.”)