'The Scream' Fetches Highest Price Ever For A Work Of Art

May 3, 2012

You recognize the image instantly - the hairless man, clutching his head with a pained look of fear or agony plastered across his features, silhouetted against frenzied red and blue lines of his environment.

It's 'The Scream', painted by Edvard Munch, and it sold at a Sotheby's auction last night in New York for $119.9 million, establishing it as the most valuable piece of art ever sold at auction, Margo Adler tells NPR's Newscast.

The Scream isn't a painting: it is pastel worked on board. And the image sold last night is actually one of four Scream versions that Munch painted; this is number three. Sotheby's says it's the best for several reasons:

"...it is the most colorful and vibrant of the four; the only version whose original frame was hand-painted by the artist to include his poem detailing the work's inspiration; and the only version in which one of the two figures in the background turns to look outward onto the cityscape."

This version was painted in 1895; the auction house says Munch also did a lithograph the same year that helped the image gain popularity.

It's also the only version that's staying in private hands, according to the New York Times. It was sold by Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen, whose family befriended Munch and became his patron. Margo says Olsen plans to use the profits to create a new museum in Norway.

A different version of 'The Scream' was stolen in 2004 from the Munch Museum in Oslo in the middle of the day; it was recovered two years later. In 1994 another Scream image was lifted from Oslo's National Museum on the opening day of the winter Olympics, that was recovered three months later, notes the History Channel.

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