“The Scream” auctioned for $120 mil

May 3, 2012 • 2:29 am

This is the highest amount of money ever paid for a work of art at auction.  According to The Atlanta Journal Constitution, one of four versions of Edvard Munch’s famous pastel “The Scream” went for $119,922,500 yesterday at Sotheby’s.  (What’s with the last $22,500?). The paper adds:

Besides “The Scream” and Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust” [JAC: that one went for $106,500,000 two years ago], 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.

It was sold by a Norwegian businessman to an anonymous telephone bidder.  Imagine what a Leonardo or a Rembrandt would go for these days if it ever reached auction!


Here, according to Wikipedia, is what Munch said about the genesis of this painting:

Munch wrote of how the painting came to be: “I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature.” He later described the personal anguish behind the painting, “for several years I was almost mad… You know my picture, ‘The Scream?’ I was stretched to the limit—nature was screaming in my blood… After that I gave up hope ever of being able to love again.”

And the runner-up, Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust”:

But these aren’t the most expensive paintings ever sold.  That honor goes to this one, whose artist you’ll recognize instantly:

It’s Cezanne’s “The Card Players,” which, according to Vanity Fair, was purchased by the nation of Qatar last year for more than—wait for it—$250 million.  That’s a quarter of a billion dollars, and over twice the price of “The Scream.”

48 thoughts on ““The Scream” auctioned for $120 mil

  1. Aaaaaaaaahhhhhh!
    That was a silent scream. I really hope it doesn’t go to a desert gallery where it will be seen only by a privileged few. I think it should have been bought by the Norwegian government for their nation from oil money.

    1. Munch seemed like quite the drama queen … but, there have been times that I could relate.

    2. Sorry, that was supposed to be a comment, not a reply to your post. My reply on selling it to Qatar is Why would anything of such cultural, historic and artistic value be sold to an Islamic country? Now, it will always be in danger of being destroyed, being an infidel product and all.

  2. I would have paid up to three hundred dollars for “The Scream” and hung it in my bathroom.

    I never did care for that painting.

      1. ad hominem much? I don’t like the painting and your calling me names for it shows what a snob you are, Joan.

    1. You hate it so much you’d pay $300 to destroy it with humidity? Why not just ignore it and let others enjoy it they’re so inclined?

  3. This just goes to show that there’s no price limit on how profoundly stupid people can be. You know what would look more beautiful than any painting and which could be bought for $120 millon? Hundreds upon hundreds of fully fed children.

      1. For instance, one could throw in some spelling lessons.

        (written in the sincere spirit of friendly ribbing 🙂 )

        But, seriously, that’s a tragedy. That amount of money is not indicative of how great the art is. It’s indicative of how vain and gullible people are. And I write this as a (musical) artist.

        What a waste of resources, indeed.

  4. Harking back a couple of topics to this one:
    “More theological criticism of atheists: we’re not despairing enough”

    – it’s obviously a piccy of an atheist, busy despairing. 😉

    1. Isn’t it enough to be just “despairing?”
      Now we have to be “busy” about it, too?

  5. I wonder what the “Elgin” Marbles would bring.

    This also causes me to contemplate that there exists among a certain per centage of humans a mindset that the possession or ownership of something is somehow due a respect and regard equal to that given to the creator or inventor of that something.

    The Elgin Marbles are a good example. Some human mammal of British extraction somehow feels entitled to take possession of them and makes sure to get his name attached to them. We don’t know the Greek sculptor(s) who created them, to whom and in whose name what if any recognition, praise, honor and glory ought rather be directed.

    When did van Gogh receive any monetary benefit for his creations? How much did Munch ever benefit?

    Someone owns a Kentucky Derby winner. The owner stands in the winner’s circle and basks in the limelight. What of note did s/he do regarding the care, training and riding to victory?

    1. Well said.

      Having worked in the art scene the past year or more as a kind of experiment (including museums, private galleries, extremely wealthy private collectors, and of course artists), I can say that although most human cliques have their fair share of pretentiousness, the art scene is by far the most ate up with it.

      The old “90 percent of everything is shit” is very true in the art world these days. Even at the, perhaps especially at the, highest levels, e.g. Art Basel. The quality of the art (concept, execution, skill, craftsmanship) matters almost not at all. Most of the people that are driving the market are ignorant and are more concerned with their image than with the art itself.

      Concept is considered by many these days, from art school graduates to collectors, to be all that matters. Execution? Hell, many of the best selling modern artists do not make their own art. They come up with a concept and then have flunkies, or a sweat shop in a poor Asian country, make the art. Not to mention that most of the time the concept is obvious, cliche, boring and simple minded.

      Having said all that, in the small amount left over there is some absolutely wonderful stuff.

  6. A Muslim country (Qatar) paid a quarter million in oil-related revenues for a (presumably) Christian painter’s depiction of a bottle of alcohol (wine on the table between the men)? Rather haram, isn’t it?

  7. And how much research could that fund? It might be a fantastic painting but to pay 74m squid is crazy and out-of-proportion to what it is worth and, more importantly, how much other things are worth….

    1. “out of proportion to what it is worth”.
      No product is worth anything other than what a willing buyer pays to a willing seller!

  8. The final bid was for $107 million. The rest of the price tag includes fees that go to Sotherby’s, hence the random-seeming $22,500 at the end.

    1. Yep, “buyer’s premium”. They wouldn’t dare to call it “seller’s surcharge”.

  9. I saw at least one of the Screams years ago (~’73 or so) at a Munch exhibit at (IIRC) the Corcoran in DC. I think there was more than one since I seem to recall different color versions. I’d like to say that one was this one, but after so many years… There was a B/W version too – I don’t know if that’s regarded as one of the four, or if it’s seen as a study/preliminary sketch.

    And then to considerable surprise, when I saw the Cezanne, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, and before I’d scrolled down far enough to see the text below it, I thought “Cezanne”.

  10. The motive for paying these high prices has much in common with the collection of baseball cards in the school yard. Rarity, drives these prices as much as perceived beauty, as well as a certain childish pleasure in holding on to something somebody else wants. Stamps, coins…paintings. The circle of wealthy people who bid on these things is a very small set who know each other well and compete in a spirit of friendly competitiveness. When one among them sells another buys, and the painting slowly circulate. They know it drives others to jealous rage.

      1. Not that. I think paintings that become icons suffer from such comparison. But it that fair?

        1. I think it was a comment on the artistic tastes of the ultra-rich. IMO Jesus got that right. (Never thought I’d say those words 😉

  11. What’s up with all this reblogging stuff recently? It seems to be a euphemism for, “I just copied your entire post and put it on my own site.” What value are these rebloggers providing? Certainly not driving traffic to the original posters’ sites. (They do provide a link, but with the article copied wholesale, there’s no need to click it.)

  12. It’s got nothing to do with the painting itself- see how enormously values can change while experts quibble over whether something is by the Master or mostly/largely/completely by one of his students.

    What if we turned up an authenticated letter by da Vinci, moaning that Francesco del Giocondo was coming to pick up his wife’s portrait, hut it had been ruined by a leak in the skylight, and all he had available was this piss-poor copy by a useless apprentice who couldn’t even draw a mouth straight?

  13. 120 million, whilst millions are on the streets and can’t afford to eat. Sorry it’s madness al right. No wonder he screamed…

  14. I like Munch’s painting. It’s, in my opinion, the best represntation of despair and anguish ever. The eyes of the screaming person are especially disturbing. It’s no wonder that it was painted by a deeply disturbed person.

    Does that make it worth millions of dollars? Yes. That’s how capitalism works: Microeconomics 101 will teach you that price is determined by the point of intersection between the supply and demand curves. Nothing has an “intrinsic” value. As long as there is some idiot willing to pay $2,000 for a MacBook Pro, that’s a fair price for a MacBook Pro. If you don’t like it, do something about it (like thinking about the foundations of your economy, FFS).

  15. What I find … odd … about this is that there were several different versions of the drawing/ painting in different forms, as well as numerous lithographs produced by the artist. So …
    Ach, it’s art ; it’s not something that rational beings get overly upset about. Though 100+ megabucks is a serious amount of irrationality.
    FWIW, it’s a set of images I like. I have a tie with (one of) Rodin’s “the Thinker”, for when I’m being interviewed for a project, and a tie with “The Scream” (I don’t know which version) on for the after-project debrief. The total value is around a decent meal’s worth.

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