Shock at Sotheby’s as ‘The Scream’ sells for $120m

Edvard Munch’s masterpiece, The Scream, one of the world’s most recognisable works of art, has sold for $120m (€91.28m) at Sotheby’s, setting a new record as the most expensive piece of art ever sold at auction.

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

The vibrant pastel was conservatively estimated to sell for about $80m, but two determined bidders competing via telephone emerged from an initial group of seven, driving the final price to $107m, or $119,922,500 including commission, over the course of a 15-minute bidding war. 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 $106.5m at Christie’s two years ago. The sales room at Sotheby’s erupted in applause when the hammer came down. Several Sotheby’s officials said the sale marked the high point of their careers.

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

For many mainstream art lovers, it is perhaps second in familiarity only to the Mona Lisa, and is among the best-known works of art still in private hands.

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