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Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' goes for $119.9 million at Sotheby's

May 02, 2012|By Jori Finkel

Tully said he hasn't seen anything like this since the London gallery White Cube's promotion of the Damien Hirst diamond-encrusted-skull, “For the Love of God,” when hundreds lined up to see the work. “I think maybe Sotheby's took something from that sale for its marketing machine.”

Tully added that it was particularly hard to estimate the value of this work in advance because it doesn't fit familiar blue-chip criteria. “It's an Expressionist work and it's colorful, and those are two things that are very desirable in the current trophy market. But it's the oddest trophy -- not that big, and it's a pastel.”

“A purist of sorts would say that it can't be that valuable: You can't call it an oil on canvas, because it's not either,” he added.

Shaw, on the other hand, stressed that crayon was a perfect choice for the work. “The artist designed "The Scream" to be a new sort of history painting for the godless age: It's a radically new subject matter for which Munch sought a radically new technique, one with every stroke visible, with no deception, no artifice and total authenticity.”

Shaw would not disclose the financial terms negotiated with the seller, but to land such high-profile consignments the big auction houses will often make a sweetheart deal. Sometimes they will forego a seller's commission; at times, they also turn over part of the buyer's premium to the seller.

Whatever the exact arrangement, “The Scream” also paid off in a smaller way for the auction house by drawing more notable artworks to the sale. This sale had a particular strength in Surrealist painting, with several works by René Magritte, a hallucinatory landscape by Salvador Dali, a lurid jungle scene by Max Ernst and a darkly Freudian narrative by Paul Delvaux featuring nude women, a stairway and a tunnel.

The Wednesday auction also contained five other works -- all oil paintings -- by Munch. Shaw confirmed that the two European collections supplying these works for sale agreed to do so only after learning that "The Scream" would be part of the auction. “For some people, the chance of selling alongside one of the great masterpieces in art history is pretty compelling,” Shaw said. 


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