So, what is widely considered to be the best of four versions of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” sold at auction last night in New York at Sotheby’s for $119,922,500, making it the most expensive piece of art work ever sold at auction. When it comes up in conversation tonight, this weekend, talk smart:
1. Love it or hate it or don’t particularly care, “The Scream” is among the most recognizable images ever put to canvas (cardboard, actually). Still, that doesn’t fully explain why the hammer price was so high. It is partly based on the fact that of the four versions of the work that exist, it is the only one privately held. The other three — two oils and a pastel — are held in permanent collections at the National Gallery Oslo (oil) and at the Munch Museum (oil, pastel), also in Oslo.
2. Plus, this version, dated to 1895, is considered the best of the four. It is the only one that is in a hand-painted frame with an inscription from Munch, describing his inspiration for the piece. The inscription reads, “I felt the great Scream in nature.”
3. Via Time: Mark Winter, director of Munch Experts, told the Guardian, “It is the crown jewel of the four but you really need a national budget to buy it. And not the budget of a small country, either.” Tobias Meyer, the Sotheby’s auctioneer, told Reuters the bidder got a good deal. “It’s worth every penny that the collector paid.”
4. In absolute dollars, “The Scream” unseats former record holder, Here is a handy guide to the top ten most expensive works of art sold at auction, updated with “The Scream.”.
5. But, actually, in dollars adjusted for CPI inflation, “The Scream” doesn’t come close to van Gogh’s “Portrait of Dr. Gachet.” In adjusted today-dollars it sold for $146.5M in 1990 (it actually sold for $82.5M).
6. There were seven bidders on “The Scream” and the auction lasted 12 minutes. The winning bidder bid anonymously via telephone.
7. Technically, the hammer price was $107M (watch the video). $120M includes a buyer’s premium. Typically, the auction house takes 25% of the first $50,000; 20% of the first $1M; and 12% of the rest. For a sale of this size, the seller likely negotiated with the auction house to get some of this premium. But, do the math: the buyer’s premium for this sale was 12%, and you can safely assume Sotheby’s pocketed at least $10M.
8. The seller was Petter Olsen, whose father was a friend of Munch’s.
9. Somewhere between fascinating and inconceivable (except for jaded art world insiders in the crowd) is the fact that the anonymous buyer of “The Scream” does not get reproduction rights alongside the painting. Like many artists, Munch’s core intellectual property — the images, not the paintings depicting the images — is policed by the Artists Rights Society (VAGA is a competitor). It’s simple copyright law, though at a particular price point one looks for the rules to bend. Nope. A museum wishing to reproduce images for use in, say, a book celebrating an exhibit celebrating the life of Picasso has to negotiate the rights to reproduce the images with ARS.
10. The most expensive piece of art ever traded, that we know of, was Paul Cezanne’s “The Card Players,” which went in a private sale to the Royal Family of Qatar for an estimated $250M.