THE term ‘masterpiece’ is all too commonplace in auctioneering hyperbole, but just occasionally it rings true.
Edvard Munch's The Scream, is both
an icon of global visual culture, referenced by everyone from Andy
Warhol to The Simpsons, and the defining image of the Expressionist
Sotheby's will offer the
only version of the composition still in private hands for sale in
New York on May 2.
"I have lived with this work all my life,
and its power and energy have only increased with time," said
consignor Petter Olsen, the Norwegian businessman whose father
Thomas was a key Munch patron.
The Scream will be on view at
Sotheby's in London from April 13 and in New York from April 27
prior to sale.
Munch (1863-1944) created four versions of
his essay on existential dread.
The prime example, worked in 1893 from
tempera and crayon on board, is in the National Gallery of Norway;
another pastel version from the same year (thought to be a
preliminary sketch) is in the Munch Museum in Oslo, also home to a
later version in tempera and oil on board, probably completed in
The Olsen picture, in pastel on board, most
closely follows the prime composition in the National Gallery and
is dated 1895, the year Munch created a lithograph of the image
which helped spark the process of its mass proliferation.
Of the four works, it is the most colourful
and is the only version in which one of the two figures in the
background turns to look outward onto the cityscape, and the only
one with an original frame painted by the artist to include his
poem detailing the work's inspiration.
Unlike the other versions (two of them the
subject of high-profile thefts but now back on display), it has
been in the collection of the Olsen family for over 70 years and
its only public exhibition was a brief display in the National
Gallery in Washington D.C. decades ago.
Thomas Olsen, scion of the great ship-owning
dynasty, was a collector and supporter of Munch from the late
1920s. Neighbours at Hvitsten in Norway, the young businessman's
role grew from friend to patron and eventually to protector of the
Olsen was instrumental in rescuing many
'degenerate' Munchs pulled from Germany's federal and state
galleries by the Nazi regime - 74 paintings that were transported
to Sandbu, a family farm in the district of Vaagaa, for safekeeping
between 1940 and liberation in 1945.
"My father hoped that his collection would
further Munch's international renown," said Petter Olsen. "In that
tradition, proceeds from this sale will go toward the establishment
of a new museum, art centre and hotel on my farm, Ramme Gaard at
Hvitsten, Norway. It will open next year in connection with the
150th anniversary of Munch's birth, and will be dedicated to the
artist's work and time there. We are restoring his house and
studio, and guests can stay in his home."
So what could The Scream be worth
in a market which, according to recent reports, can stomach $250m
for a version of Cezanne's Card
Simon Shaw, head of Sotheby's Impressionist
& Modern Art department in New York, described the painting as
"one of the most important works of art in private hands. Given how
rarely true icons come to the market, it is difficult to predict
The Scream's value. The price could exceed $80m."