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Adam Anderson

The Scream roars past auction record, sells for $119.9 million

by Adam Anderson | Dun & Bradstreet Editor

May 3, 2012 | 1 Comment »

  • Sotheby's "The Scream" auctionThere is a new record for the highest price ever paid for a work of art at an auction. This week at Sotheby’s New York, Edvard Munch’s iconic 1895 pastel The Scream fetched $119.9 million. The bid beat the earlier record price of $106.5 million, which paid for a Picasso piece in 2010.

According to Sotheby’s, eight bidders were competing for the work of art, which depicts a man with his hands on his face as he screams near a fjord near Oslo. It came down to two phone bidders who battled it out for 12 minutes until the final price, $119,922,500, was reached.

The bid also helped set another record: the highest-ever total for a sale of impressionist and modern art. The auction, which The Scream was a part of, totaled more than $330.5 million. It was the second-highest total at an auction held at Sotheby’s. The auction also included the entire art collection that once belonged to the late leveraged buyout pioneer Theodore Forstmann. His collection was sold for more than $83 million.

The auction is the latest success for Sotheby’s, which has experienced a recovery following the global economic downturn. One big reason for the auction house’s success is a growing demand from buyers and sellers in developing markets, especially China, Russia, the Middle East, and South America. The ultra wealthy in countries such as those are willing to pay big money for rare works of art that come up for auction.

Sotheby’s did not identify the winning bidder of The Scream, which is one of four versions of work. The other versions are in museums in Oslo — the artist’s home town.

Whoever did walk away with The Scream just earned major bragging rights in the art world. Plus, they have a coveted masterpiece (with a rather scary price tag) to hang somewhere in one of their mansions.

As for Sotheby’s, the company also walked away a winner. Auction commissions account for about 85% of Sotheby’s revenues each year. The auction house will get about $12.9 million from the sale of The Scream.


Photo from Sotheby’s New York
Rebecca Mallett

Interesting post, Laura. It reminds of a piece I heard on NPR recently about Chinese artists and buyers. Apparently many on the art world are worried that overzealous Chinese art buyers are creating a global art bubble. Reading about these record high art prices, it does make you wonder…

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