Friday, May 04, 2012

Munch's The Scream sells for record $119.9 million

As you may have heard, one of four versions of Edvard Munch's iconic painting The Scream, the only one in private hands (the others are in museums in Norway), sold for a whopping $119.9 million ($107 million plus the sale charge) at Sotheby's in New York on Wednesday.

The price attained by the Munch is remarkable. Not merely because of current economic conditions which, after all, seem not to be too onerous for the very rich. More because the work is not as singular as it seems.

It is the third of four versions of the subject Munch created (excluding lithographs). Two were created earlier, in 1893. This pastel was commissioned by the coffee magnate Arthur von Franquet in 1895.

It was not even painted in oils on canvas -- usually a prerequisite for high prices in the art market. It’s a frail-looking pastel on board...

But the work that sold last night has inherent qualities, too. Munch intended it as a definite statement of the theme after two more tentative attempts. The colors are brighter, more deliberately dissonant. 

As for the sale itself, New York had perhaps the best line: "The buyer's name has not been disclosed but the individual is believed to be someone with a ton of money."


(Makes you wonder, without trying to tarnish art with money, just how much, say the Mona Lisa would fetch on the open market. Or a rather famous document I saw at the British Library a few weeks ago, the Magna Carta. Or any of the magnificent manuscripts there, like the Lindisfarne Gospels. The Sir John Ritblat Gallery, a large room that houses the Library's most valuable items for public view, is unbelievably amazing.)


I used to blog about art history from time to time here, as it's long been an interest of mine, and I really should get back to it, in between all the political stuff.

And the artist I've blogged about the most is Munch, whom I absolutely love. I even posted The Scream (the version at at the National Gallery of Norway in Oslo) in this blog's 5,000th post, "Blogscream," back in July 2008. You can find a few other posts on Munch here, here, and here.


Munch gave the painting the German title Der Schrei der Natur (The Scream of Nature), while it is known in Norwegian as Skrik.

On January 22, 1892, Munch wrote these lines in his diary, the famous inspiration for his work:

I was walking along a path with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.

Note: It's not the iconic figure who is screaming, despite the open mouth, it's nature -- or, really, it's an existential scream to which the figure is responding with a sudden overwhelming sense of terror.

It is truly an image that captures something fundamental to the human condition. It may have sold for almost $120 million, but, really, you can't put a price on it.

Thankfully, there are three other versions on public display. And personally I've got Oslo high on my list of must-go destinations.


I would note, as I have before, that there have been some excellent books written about Munch and The Scream, but I'd recommend these two:

-- Edvard Munch: Behind the Scream, by Sue Prideaux.

An excellent collection of Munch's work can be found in Edvard Munch: The Modern Life of the Soul, published by New York's Museum of Modern Art.

I'd also recommend Peter Watkins's magnificant film, Edvard Munch. I'd rank it among the best films of all time. Seriously. It's fantastic.

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  • I have a Lithograph of The Screem by Edvard Munch on the back it is coverd in a paper that says VMD5MU/01 can you tell me is that VMD # is and is that mean its a number 1 Lithograph out of like 5000 or something?
    any information you have about this Lithograph I would truely appricate, I dont know if i can find my way back to this site so please email me at if you have any information on it.
    Thanks Maryann

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:05 PM  

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