Edvard Munch's masterpiece "The Scream", one of the world's most recognizable images, was sold for a record $119,922,500 at an art auction in New York City on Wednesday, significantly more than the $80 million initially expected by the auction house.
The 1895 painting, owned by Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen, led the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale at Sotheby's in New York City on Wednesday. It is one of four known versions of the iconic composition but the only version still in private hands, as the other versions are owned by Norwegian museums.
During Wednesday's art auction, a group of at least eight bidders jumped into the competition, but it was a prolonged battle between two highly determined phone bidders that carried the final selling price to its historic level after more than 12 minutes. The buyer's name was not released.
With $119,922,500, the painting is now the world's highest-priced artwork to ever sell at auction. The previous record for a work of art at auction was held by Pablo Picasso's "Nude, Green leaves, and Bust" which was sold at Christie's New York in May 2010 for $106,482,500.
"The Scream", which shows an agonized figure who is holding his head and screaming under a blood-red sky, is one of the most instantly recognizable images in both art history and popular culture. "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, the head of Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern Art department in New York.
Olsen, who believes the painting portrays an 'important message' about global warming, said he hopes the publicity generated by the auction will increase public interest in Munch's work. "Munch will continue to be a major force in my life," he said.
Olsen, whose father Thomas was a friend, neighbor and patron of Munch, said the proceeds from the sale will go toward the establishment of a new museum, art center and hotel on his farm in the Norwegian village of Hvitsten. "It will open next year in connection with the Munch 150th [birth] anniversary, and will be dedicated to the artist's work and time there," he said. "We are restoring his house and studio, and guests can stay in his home."
Tobias Meyer, Sotheby's Worldwide Head of Contemporary Art and Wednesday's auctioneer, said the sale was a dream for an auctioneer. "The Scream is worth every penny that the collector paid for it," he said. "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."
Sotheby's previously said the pastel-on-board version of "The Scream", which was sold on Wednesday, is distinguished in several ways. The auction house said it is the most colorful and vibrant of the four and the only version whose original frame was hand-painted by the artist to include his poem detailing the work's inspiration. It is also the only version in which one of the two figures in the background turns to look outward onto the cityscape.
Before it was auctioned in New York on Wednesday, the painting was on view at Sotheby's in London on April 13 and then in New York on April 27. This version had never before been on public view in either the United Kingdom or the United States, except briefly at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.