As Tobias Meyer took to the podium at a Sotheby’s auction room in New York on May 2, it was standing room only.
As Tobias Meyer took to the podium at a Sotheby’s auction room in New York on May 2, it was standing room only. Bidders sat down, eager to see what was going under the hammer as agents and specialists occupied multiple phone lines with bidders around the world. In the beginning, it would seem to be a normal auction for Meyer, the Worldwide Head of Contemporary Art at the organization. It was the same thought for the bidders, specialists, the wider art community and observers of it, until Lot 20 came along.
It was The Scream, a painting from 1895 by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch—the aesthetics of human anxiety contained in one of the most fascinating artistic works of the 19th century. When it was introduced, the bids began, and the amounts flew up, creating what was a nail biting scene. After that 12 minute scene reached a climax with the winning bid, history had been made. It was sold at a record $119.9 million (£74 million), the highest any painting had been sold for. It was estimated at a mere $80 million (£49.5 million) before that evening’s sale.
The world was left in awe, stunned at the record breaking figure. ‘If ever there was a work of art of true shock and awe it is Edvard Munch’s The Scream, which is not only one of the seminal images from art history, but also one of the visual keys to the modern consciousness,’ said Simon Shaw, the head of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Department in New York in a statement.
Meyer added that the sale was a dream for an auctioneer. ‘The Scream is worth every penny that the collector paid for it. It is one of the great icons of art in the world, andwhoever bought it should be congratulated,’ Meyer said in a statement. ‘Tonight was a historic night for Sotheby’s, and I am very happy to have been part of it.’
This specific version of The Scream had been one of four versions in existence. The other three are curated in museums in Norway, according to a BBC report. As a result, its rarity had made it one worthy of collecting, especially taking into consideration Munch’s importance and significance to art overall.
There was one other factor that stood out—globalisation. Word of the bid spread, as e-mails were sent and trans-atlantic phone calls were conducted, ensuring the collector in question had a bid registered. There were competitors from a number of countries, from across Asia and Europe through to the US. Therefore, it became a competitive environment for what arguably is one of the most significant contributions to culture from 19th century Europe.
Still, it comes down to this—one of the most brilliant, astounding pieces of art work sold for its rarity, its uniqueness, its importance, and moreover, what it represents to all of us. The Scream will be around in museums for all of us to see, and a collector to view for the rest of time.