Munch’s ‘Scream’ fetches world record price

The only privately owned version of Edvard Munch's "The Scream" -- one of the most recognizable paintings in history -- set a world record Wednesday when it sold for $119.9 million at Sotheby's in New York.

Munch's 'Scream' fetches world record price

Heated competition between seven bidders took the price to the highest for a work of art at a public auction in just 12 minutes, sparking applause.

"World record," announced auctioneer Tobias Meyer after bringing down the hammer.

The previous record was held by Picasso's "Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust," which sold in 2010 for $106.5 million.

"The Scream" is one of four versions of a work whose nightmarish central figure and lurid, swirling colors symbolized the existential angst and despair of the modern age.

It was sold by Norwegian Petter Olsen, whose father was a friend and supporter of the artist. He plans to establish a new museum in Norway.

On two occasions, other versions of the painting have been stolen from museums, although both were recovered. Copies have adorned everything from student dorms to tea mugs and the work has the rare quality of being known to art experts and the general public alike.

"We're delighted to say that this magnificent picture, which is not only one of the seminal images of our history, but also one of the visual keys for modern consciousness, achieved a world record," Simon Shaw, head of the Impressionist and modern department at Sotheby's, said.

Reflecting the excitement, Sotheby's spokesman Darrell Rocha said there had been an "electric" atmosphere during the sale of a painting that had been estimated to fetch at least $80 million.

"A group of seven bidders jumped into the competition early, but it was a prolonged battle between two highly determined phone bidders that carried the final selling price to its historic level," he said.

"Scream's" success means there are just three other works that have sold for more than $100 million.

One is the Picasso nude, another is Picasso's "Boy with a Pipe" which sold for $104.1 million in 2004, and the fourth is Alberto Giacometti's "Walking Man" sculpture which fetched $104.3 million in 2010.

The version of "The Scream" sold on Wednesday was executed in 1895 and is the only one not held by Norwegian museums. It also features a poem inscribed by Munch in which he explains his inspiration for the work, which depicts "the great scream in nature."

Olsen said he was "very pleased" and said he hoped "the publicity given by this sale will increase interest in Munch's work and awareness of the important message that I feel it conveys."

"The scream shows for me the horrifying moment when man realizes his impact on nature and the irreversible changes that he has initiated, making the planet increasingly inhabitable."

The sale was the high point of the auction of Impressionist and modern works at Sotheby's. Rival Christie's held a more muted auction Tuesday.

Both houses turn to contemporary art next week, with Mark Rothko's 1961 painting "Orange, Red, Yellow" expected to sell for $35 million to $45 million at Christie's.

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Paul Gauguin’s ‘Mata Mua’ returns to Spain

One of French painter Paul Gauguin's most famous paintings, "Mata Mua", will return to a Madrid museum on Monday following an agreement between the Spanish government and its owner, who took it out of the country.

mata mua madrid
Toward the end of his life, Gauguin spent ten years in French Polynesia, where he completed some of his most famous artwork Painting: Paul Gaugin

The artwork had been on display for two decades at Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza museum but in 2020 when the institution closed because of the pandemic, the painting’s owner Carmen Thyssen moved it to Andorra where she currently lives.

Her decision to take “Mata Mua” to the microstate sandwiched between Spain and France raised fears she would remove other works from her collection which are on display at the museum.

“It is expected that the painting will arrive today,” a spokeswoman for the museum told AFP.


In 1989, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza bought Mata Mua at the Sotheby’s auction in New York. Painting: Paul Gauguin

The artwork will go back on display to the public “a few days after” Thyssen signs a new agreement with the Spanish state for the lease of her collection, she added. The deal is expected to be signed on Wednesday.

Painted in 1892 in vivid, flat colours, “Mata Mua” depicts two women, one playing the flute and the other listening, set against a lush Tahitian landscape.

It is one of the stars of Thyssen’s collection of several hundred paintings which are on show at the museum, including works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Claude Monet.

Her collection had initially been displayed at the Madrid museum as part of a free loan agreement signed in February 2002 that was subsequently extended.

But in August 2021 Spain’s culture ministry announced it had reached an agreement with Thyssen to rent the collection from her for 15 years for €97.5 million ($111.5 million), with “preferential acquisition rights on all or part” of the works. The collection includes a Degas, a Hopper and a Monet.

Aside from housing her collection of works, the museum displays the collection of her late husband, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Swiss heir to a powerful industrial lineage who died in Spain in 2002.

The Spanish state bought his collection in 1993 from $350 million, according to the museum.