THE latest round of Impressionist and Modern art sales in New York will forever be remembered as ‘The Scream’ series.
Never before had there been so much media focus on a single work at auction as Sotheby's offered one of the four versions of Edvard Munch's (1863-1944) seminal expressionist image at their evening sale on May 2.
It took 12 minutes to sell as the bidding started at $40m and it was pursued by four interested parties before it was finally knocked down at $107m (£69m) to an anonymous phone buyer operating through Sotheby's executive vice president Charles Moffett.
Although the auctioneers would not release any further information as to who was bidding, it is thought that, as well as the eventual buyer whose nationality is unknown, there was one bidder from Norway and one from Asia who were still in contention past the $70m mark.
The final price eclipsed the previous auction high of $95m (£65.1m) which came for Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves and Bust at Christie's New York in May 2010, as well as the previous auction record for Munch, which was the $34m (£20.8m) seen for his Vampire oil painting sold in the same rooms in November 2008.
The result also means that Sotheby's now hold six of the top ten all-time auction prices.
The work itself was a 2ft 7in x 23in (79 x 59cm) pastel on board from 1895, the year Munch created a lithograph of the image which helped spark the process of its mass proliferation. It was made two years after the artist produced the primary version of The Scream which is now in the National Gallery of Norway. The version at Sotheby's was the most colourful of the four and, crucially, the only one remaining in private hands.
It was consigned to auction by Petter Olsen, the heir of the Norwegian shipping magnate Thomas Olsen who finally acquired full title to the picture in 2001 after a legal wrangle with his brother.
Petter Olsen will now use the money from the sale to establish a new museum, art centre and hotel on his farm, Ramme Gaard at Hvitsten, Norway which is planned to open next year in connection with the 150th anniversary of Munch's birth.
On the rostrum for the evening sale was Tobias Meyer, Sotheby's worldwide head of Contemporary art, who said afterwards: "This evening's sale was a dream for an auctioneer, and to be able to sell The Scream for over $100m was a moment that I cherish as an auctioneer.
"Tonight was a historic night for Sotheby's, and I am very happy to have been part of it."
Overall, Sotheby's hammer total for the 76-lot evening sale was $291.2m (£187.9m), their second highest total for a sale in this category. The pre-sale estimate was $246.3m-323.4m.
Christie's Imps & Mods evening sale the day before offered only 31 lots, something which suggested that they may have kept works back for a future series.
The hammer total was $102.7m (£66.3m) against a $90.5m-130.2m presale estimate and the top lot was Paul Cézanne's (1839-1906) watercolor study for The Card Players which took a mid-estimate $17m (£11m) and was again knocked down to an anonymous buyer.
The buyer's premium at both Sotheby's and Christie's was 25/20/12%