"The Scream" Scares Up $120 Million and Shatters Records at Sotheby's Epic Impressionist and Modern Sale

Edvard Munch’s angst-filled masterpiece “The Scream” rocketed to a record $119,922,500 at Sotheby’s Wednesday evening. The 1895 pastel, expected to fetch in excess of $80 million, became the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction and the first to break the $100 million mark.

It is one of four versions and the only one still in private hands, with the other three safely in Norwegian museums. Remarkably, two of those versions were brazenly stolen and later recovered, making “The Scream” a remarkable target of desire. This particular version has another remarkable component as well, a hand-written poem in red paint on the artist-made frame. Translated from Norwegian, Munch’s blistering poem reads in part, “My Friends walked on / I remained behind / shivering with Anxiety / I felt the great Scream in Nature. E.M.”

The color-charged composition, postcard-famous for the twisted, androgynous, open mouthed central figure, clasping its ears on a bridge and set against a flaming sunset, sold to an anonymous telephone bidder after a protracted 12-minute battle. The contest began with an opening bid of $40 million and quickly moved skyward at one million dollar increments. At least four bidders chased the Expressionist trophy, including Oslo dealer Ben Frija of Galleri K, who led the charge in the salesroom against telephone bidders until the $73 million mark.

Asked after the action if he was surprised by the price, Frija snapped, “No,” and departed the salesroom.

For the complete article by Judd Tully please visit Artinfo.com