Munch's "The Scream" sells for record $120 million

Thu May 3, 2012 1:27pm EDT
 
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By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Edvard Munch's masterpiece "The Scream," one of the world's most recognizable works of art, sold for $120 million at Sotheby's on Wednesday, setting a new record as the most expensive piece of art ever sold at auction.

Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern art auction featured top works by Picasso, Dali and Miro, but Munch's vibrant work from 1895 was the star attraction in a salesroom packed with art collectors, dealers and media.

The vibrant pastel was conservatively estimated to sell for about $80 million, but two determined bidders competing via telephone emerged from an initial group of seven, driving the final price to $107 million, or $119,922,500 including commission, over the course of a nearly 15-minute bidding war.

The winning bid was taken by a Sotheby's executive, and the bidder was not identified.

One of four versions by the Scandinavian painter, sold by Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen, "The Scream" easily eclipsed the old auction record held by Picasso's "Nude, green leaves and bust," which sold for $106.5 million at Christie's two years ago.

The sales room at Sotheby's erupted in applause and cheering when the hammer came down. Several Sotheby's officials said the sale marked the high point of their careers.

"It's worth every penny that the collector paid," said Tobias Meyer, who served as auctioneer and called it "one of the great icons" of fine art.

In recent decades "The Scream," which depicts a figure with hands pressed to head against a backdrop of swirling colors, has become a ubiquitous image, appropriated for everything from coffee mugs to editorial cartoons.   Continued...

 
Sotheby's employees pose for a photograph with Edvard Munch's painting "The scream" at Sotheby's auction house in London in this April 12, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth