The Scream by Edvard Munch - the Mona Lisa of modernity - is one of the world’s most iconic paintings. Will it become one of the world’s most expensive when it is sold at Sotheby’s New York on 2 May?
Edvard Munch, 'The Scream', 1895. Pastel on board, 79x59 cm When I went to view it at Sotheby’s in London
this week, it certainly exceeded all expectations. I thought I knew the work, which I have seen countless times in reproduction, but looking at it up close was a revelation. The vivid colours of the painting, encased in a hand-painted gold frame, seem to pulse and radiate outward from the work.
The raw marks of pastel scrawled across rough board perfectly express the artist’s desire to reveal his anxiety and despair – indeed Munch believed painting such a subject in oil on canvas would be too slick and would mask the intensity of his emotions. For Munch, this work was a self-portrait of his soul trying to block out what he called ‘the great scream in nature’ all around him.
It is worth braving the bodyguards and security around The Scream and putting up with a long queue, to see this work – never before displayed in public – while it is on public view at Sotheby’s New Bond Street until 18 April. It won't even make an appearance in Tate Modern's Munch blockbuster this summer.
Munch felt enormous personal attachment to his work, referring to paintings as his ‘children’, and he often painted another version of favourite works when one was sold. There are four versions of The Scream painted between 1892 and 1910, and the 1895 version offered at Sotheby’s is the only one still in private hands – the rest are in museums in the artist’s native Norway. The Sotheby’s painting is also the only one in a hand-painted frame, inscribed with a poem by Munch about the subject of The Scream, which was the climax of a series of works by Munch known as ‘The Frieze of Life’.
I spoke to Philip Hook, senior director at Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art department, about the making and meaning of this remarkable work:
The Scream is being sold by the Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen, son of Munch’s patron, the collector Thomas Olsen, who assembled a major collection of work by the artist and felt strongly that Munch should be better known abroad. To that end he lent regularly to Munch exhibitions around the world and donated Munch’s painting The Sick Child to the Tate in 1939, which remains the only Munch in a public collection in the UK. In this spirit, The Scream is being sold to fund a Munch museum housing the family collection at Petter Olsen’s country house in Norway, which is next door to Munch’s house.