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Sotheby's Looking for Record Sale with 'The Scream'

By Amy Zimmer | May 1, 2012 2:34pm
"The Scream" is being auctioned off by Sotheby's on May 2 and carries a reported $80 million pre-sale price tag.
"The Scream" is being auctioned off by Sotheby's on May 2 and carries a reported $80 million pre-sale price tag.
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MANHATTAN — "The Scream" is expected to cause a stir when the iconic painting goes up for auction at Sotheby's impressionist and modern art evening sale on Wednesday.

It's expected to take in more than $80 million — the highest pre-sale price the exclusive auction house has ever set, according to the Wall Street Journal.

This version of Edvard Munch's famed masterpiece, which dates back to 1895, is one of four "Screams," but is the only one still in private hands, according to Sotheby's. 

It's considered the most colorful and vibrant of the four and is the only version with an original frame hand-painted by Munch, including his poem detailing the work's inspiration, the auction house said.  It has only been viewed in the U.S. for a brief period decades ago at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Members of the royal family of Qatar, who are stocking up on museum-worthy pieces and are rumored to have recently bought Paul Cezanne's "The Card Players" for some $250 million, are among the Middle Eastern sheiks believed to be interested in bidding, the Journal said. Another name floated was cosmetic mogul Ronald Lauder, who made headlines with his $135 million purchase of "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I" for his Neue Galerie on the Upper East Side.

The sale is also expected to attract Russian oligarchs, Greek shipping heirs and others with an interest in big-ticket artworks, the paper reported. 

"The haunting composition stands as the visual embodiment of modern anxiety and existential dread, referenced by everyone from Andy Warhol to The Simpsons," Sotheby's said on its website. "Edvard Munch and 'The Scream' have been the subject of countless books, scholarly articles, films and museum exhibitions."

Some think the auction house's price tag is widely inflated. One New York art dealer told the Journal he didn't think there was "much justification for such a high estimate," but Skate's Art Market Research believes the work will fetch between $92.5 million and $123.4 million.

This version of "The Scream" is owned by Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen, whose father was a friend, neighbor and patron of Munch, according to Sotheby's. Olsen's family has had the painting for more than 70 years.

Two other versions of the work are at the Munch Museum in Oslo and one is at the National Gallery of Norway. One of the Munch Museum's "Scream" paintings was stolen, along with Munch's "Madonna," in 2004 but was found safe two years later.