It took 12 nail-biting minutes and five eager bidders for Edvard Munchs famed 1895 pastel of The Scream to sell for $119.9 million,becoming the worlds most expensive work of art ever to sell at auction.
The mystery winner bid over the phone,through Charles Moffett,Sothebys executive vice president and vice chairman of its worldwide Impressionist,modern and contemporary art department. Gasps could be heard as the bidding climbed higher and higher,until there was a pause at $99 million,prompting Tobias Meyer,the evenings auctioneer,to smile and say,I have all the time in the world. When $100 million was bid,the audience began to applaud.
The price eclipsed the previous record,made two years ago at Christies in New York when Picassos Nude,Green Leaves and Bust brought $106.5 million.
Munch made four versions of The Scream. Three are now in Norwegian museums; the one that sold on Wednesday,a pastel on board from 1895,was the only one still in private hands. It was sold by Petter Olsen,a Norwegian businessman and shipping heir whose father was a friend,neighbour and patron of the artist.
The image has been reproduced endlessly in popular culture in recent decades,becoming a universal symbol of angst and existential dread and nearly as famous as the Mona Lisa.
Outside of Sothebys,there was excitement of a different kind,as demonstrators protesting the companys longtime lockout of art handlers waved placards with the image of The Scream along with the motto,Sothebys: Bad for Art. Many in the group a mix of union members and Occupy Wall Street protesters even screamed themselves when the Munch went on the block.
Inside,the atmosphere generated by the Munchs record price carried through the rest of the auction,which saw high prices for everything from Picasso paintings to sculptures by Giacometti and Brancusi.
But it was the record price for The Scream that captured everyones imagination. Among speculation on the possible buyer,the financier Leonard Blavatnik,the Microsoft tycoon Paul Allen and members of the Qatari royal family were named.
While some were surprised at the price,one Munch enthusiast was not: Its nice to see the centrality of Norway in the mainstream of western culture, said Ivor Braka,a London dealer. The scream is more than a painting,its a symbol of psychology as it anticipates the 20th-century traumas of mankind.