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Munch’s ‘The Scream’ Fetches Record $119.9 Million At Sotheby’s Auction

The Scream (credit: http://www.sothebys.com/en.html)

The Scream (credit: http://www.sothebys.com/en.html)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — “The Scream” has caused an uproar in the auction world.

One of the art world’s most recognizable images, Edvard Munch’s painting sold for $119,922,500 at a Sotheby’s auction on Wednesday.

It is now the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction.

The buyer is remaining anonymous.

It’s one of only four original versions of the 1895 painting of a man holding his head and screaming under a streaked, blood-red sky, which has become a modern symbol for human anxiety.

the scream Munchs The Scream Fetches Record $119.9 Million At Sothebys Auction

‘The Scream’ sells for a whopping $119 million at auction at Sotheby’s. (credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Three are in Norwegian museums; the one at Sotheby’s is the only one left in private hands. It is being sold by Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen, whose father was a friend and patron of the artist.

The previous record was held by Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust” which sold for a whopping $106.5 million at auction in 2010.

The image has become part of pop culture, “used by everyone from Warhol to Hollywood to cartoons to teacups and T-shirts,” said Michael Frahm of the London-based art advisory service firm Frahm Ltd. “Together with the Mona Lisa, it’s the most famous and recognized image in art history.”

“As popular culture, it provides an analogy for both individual and collective experiences of, variously, loss, pain, grief, modernity, nature gone awry, the body out of control, and Existential struggle,” said Patricia Berman, chair of the art department at Wellesley College and a director of the Edvard Munch Research Institute in Oslo.

A buzz swept through the room when the artwork was presented for auction as two guards stood watch on either side. Bidding started at $40 million with seven buyers jumping into the competition early.

The battle eventually boiled down to two phone bidders as the historic hammer price was finally achieved after more than 12 minutes. The record price includes the auction house’s fee.

Sotheby’s said the pastel-on-board version of “The Scream” is the most colorful and vibrant of the four and the only version whose frame was hand-painted by the artist to include his poem, detailing the work’s inspiration.

In the poem, Munch described himself “shivering with anxiety” and said he felt “the great scream in nature.”

Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen, whose father was a friend and patron of the artist, said he sold the piece through Sotheby’s because he felt “the moment has come to offer the rest of the world the chance to own and appreciate this remarkable work.”

“I have lived with this work all my life, and its power and energy have only increased with time,” Olsen said.

Proceeds from the sale will go toward the establishment of a new museum, art center and hotel in Hvitsten, Norway, where Olsen’s father and Munch were neighbors.

A total of nine works now have sold for $80 million or more at auction, according to Sotheby’s.

Besides “The Scream” and Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust,” only two other works have sold for more than $100 million at auction. Those are Picasso’s “Boy With a Pipe (The Young Apprentice)” for $104.1 million in 2004 and Alberto Giacometti’s “Walking Man I” for $104.3 million in 2010.

(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)