Sotheby’s makes auction history

Auction history was made at Sotheby’s on 2nd May when Edvard Munch’s iconic masterpiece The Scream sold for $119,922,500 / £73,921,284 / €91,033,826 in New York, marking a new world record for any work of art at 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.

Simon Shaw, Senior Vice President and Head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art department in New York, said: “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. We are delighted to say that this magnificent picture achieved a new world record at Sotheby’s for any work of art when it sold for $119.9 million (£73.6 million / €91 million) after an enthusiastic bidding battle involving at least eight bidders which lasted for more than 12 minutes. Tonight’s sale total of $330,568,550 million marked Sotheby’s highest ever total for an Evening Sale of Impressionist and Modern Art, breaking Sotheby’s previous record of $286.2 million set in 1990 here at Sotheby’s in New York.”

Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s Worldwide Head of Contemporary Art and this evening’s auctioneer, commented:

“This evening’s sale was a dream for an auctioneer, and to be able to sell The Scream for over $100 million dollars hammer was a moment that I cherish as an auctioneer, and also a very proud moment for Sotheby’s. The Scream is worth every penny that the collector paid for it. 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.”

David Norman, Co-Chairman of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Department, added: “I have been at Sotheby’s for three decades, and the sale of The Scream in tonight’s auction is the most exciting moment I have experienced here. In 2004, Sotheby’s sold the first $100 million picture, and to shatter the world auction record again for such an iconic and rare work of art this evening was nothing less than historic.” Mr. Norman continued: “We were also entrusted with so many other wonderful collections, including – and very happily – the Forstmann collection, which comfortably made a total within its estimated range, and we’re thrilled to have achieved the $29.2 million price for the Picasso and the $14.9 million sum for the marvellous Joan Miró surrealist work Tête Humaine. Throughout the sale we established great prices in so many different categories: the Munch with Expressionism; Picasso with classic Modernism; Dalí with Surrealism; and Brancusi, a great work of sculpture.”


Statement from Petter Olsen

“I was walking along the road with two Friends / the Sun was setting – The Sky turned a bloody red / And I felt a whiff of Melancholy – I stood / Still, deathly tired – over the blue-black / Fjord and City hung Blood and Tongues of Fire / My Friends walked on – I remained behind / – shivering with Anxiety – I felt the great Scream in Nature – EM”

The artist’s hand-painted inscription on the frame of the present work.

I hope that the publicity given by this sale will increase public interest in Munch’s work and awareness of the important message that I feel it conveys.

“The Scream” for me shows the horrifying moment when man realises his impact on nature and the irreversible changes that he has initiated, making the planet increasingly uninhabitable.

The image of “The Scream” could make more of us fathom the magnitude of the consequences of our continuing emissions of greenhouse gases. This will inevitably lead to the triggering of uncontrollable feedback mechanisms that lie latent in the physics of nature.

They will kick in, slowly at first, then accelerate, causing the earth to become overheated. The biosphere will shrink and there will be less oxygen, water and food. More death, less life. And very few lifeboats left as we go down.

Munch’s most important work “The Frieze of Life”, never finalized, but existing in many versions, has as its theme Love, Anxiety and Death. “The Scream” is about Anxiety approaching and anticipating Death.

Munch’s hand painted poem on the frame ends with the words “The Great Scream in Nature.” It is as if Munch has had a premonition of what man was going to inflict on nature.