~ Posted by Robert Butler, April 17th 2012
There are eight works of art that have sold at auction houses for more than $80m and the list is a surprising one. Only one artist makes the list more than once and that's Picasso, and he gets in three times. Most people would probably guess that there's a Monet and a van Gogh in there and they'd be right. The other three are more eclectic: a Giacometti, a Klimt and a Francis Bacon. There may be other works of art—such as Cezanne's "The Card Players"—which went for more than $80m, but they were sold privately and the price remains a secret.
On May 2nd, a work will be auctioned at Sotheby's in New York which has a good chance of joining that select group of eight. Edvard Munch's "The Scream" is one of the most widely reproduced images in art. It exists in four versions: two pastels and two paintings. One painting is in the National Gallery in Oslo, and one painting and one pastel in the Munch Museum in Oslo. The other pastel belongs to Petter Olsen, a member of the Norwegian shipping family, whose father was a neighbour and patron of Munch's. After the sale on May 2nd, the picture may disappear into a private collection. It's this version of "The Scream" that has been on view in London (for one more day only) and more than 4,000 people have gone to see it. After that, it travels to New York, where it will also be on view till the sale.
Since one version of "The Scream" was stolen from the National Gallery in Oslo in 1994 and another version was stolen from the Munch Museum in 2004, security at Sotheby's is understandably tight. After the third set of security guards and the second scanner, the viewer enters a small darkened room and confronts the luminous bright pastels of one of the most famous pictures in the world.
Popular representations of the picture always zoom in on the face, the open mouth with the blue lips, and the willowy hands clasped round the ears. But seeing the picture itself—as I did today, perhaps for the only time—the viewer becomes far more aware of the two men leaning over the balustrade in the background, the matchstick ship in the sea, and the dynamic tension between the undulating reds and yellows of the sunset and the rigid blacks and blues of the promenade. It looked like a picture that has a good chance of joining the top eight.
The sale on May 2nd starts at 7pm New York time, and the Munch is lot 20, so the picture should be up any time between about 7.15 and 7.30 EST, which will make it around 00.15/30 for this blogger. To watch the sale live, go to
Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye opens at Tate Modern: June 28–October 14 2012
Robert Butler is online editor of Intelligent Life