/ The Electrifying Power of Painting

The Scream On Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 7 p.m. a highly anticipated auction was held at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale in New York. The painting generating this incredible excitement was The Scream, one of the most celebrated images in the history of art.

The auction house had their highest-ever estimate for The Scream–they hoped it would sell for at least $80 million. The bidding started at $40 million with seven buyers and quickly went down to two phone buyers. The historic hammer price of $119,922,500 was achieved in just 12 minutes. The name of the buyer was a secret.

The previous record for an artwork sold at auction was $106.5 million for Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust,” sold by Christie’s in 2010. However, the art market being what it is–a land of smoke and mirrors–even the Number One slot is uncertain.

Since 2011, rumors have circulated about the sale of Paul Cezanne’s Card Players for an astronomical $250 million, almost double the previous record. Did it sell for that? Who was the buyer?

Although nothing has been announced, various sources are now cautiously certain that a private sale did take place at the rumored figure. They also believe that the buyer of the Card Players and The Scream is the royal family of Qatar who NEVER confirm or deny a purchase.

The Scream was executed in 1895 by Edvard Munch, a Norwegian artist, who was 32-years-old at the time. When he created the image, he intended to record, “the modern life of the soul.”

It is one of the few masterpieces that require no introduction, as it has been analyzed, reproduced, referenced, interpreted and commercialized more often than perhaps any picture except Leonardo’s Mona Lisa.

The present composition is one of four renditions of The Scream. The other three versions are housed in Norwegian museums, leaving this the only Scream in private hands.

Several years before the sale, four experts from Sotheby’s visited Oslo to study the painting. One reported, “We were struck by the work’s chromatic brilliance. The blazing red-orange and lemon-yellow currents of pastel streaming across the sky, set against the near lapis blues and verdant green of the harbor and landscape, led us to a surprisingly joyous round of exclamations. A work that expressed misery was also a work of dazzling color.”

Sources: Sotheby’s Catalog; BBC News, April 13, 2012; Financial Times, April 21, 2012; CBS News, May 2, 2012; Digital Journal, May 3, 2012 and the Financial Times, June 23, 2012.

COMMENT: Thinking I would like to see the auction of the century, I made a phone call to Sotheby’s and asked if the general public was allowed to attend. The answer was “no” but, if one was willing to pay a fee, one would be welcome. Envisioning a modest $50 charge, I said to myself, “Okay, I’ll spring for that.”

And what was the fee? “Five thousand dollars,” was the crisp, uber-British reply.

I declined.

UPDATE: In the New York Post of July 12, 2012, it was reported that the buyer of The Scream is Leon Black, a New Yorker, who is worth an estimated $3.5 billion. So much for the guys in Qatar.

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