US$119.9 million, roughly 2.5 tonnes of gold, or ZAR1 billion, has just become the all-time record auction fetch for a “Screaming” artwork of unique and utter brilliance
Wed eve, 2nd May, in a packed and jittery salesroom, Sotheby’s hammered down Edvard Munch’s 1895 “The Scream”—that emblematic image of a man wailing on a bridge—for $119.9 million. Amid giddy applause, It became the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction.
But did a rich Chinese collector buy it? A dot-com mogul? A hedge-fund tycoon? Nobody’s saying…
The Daily Beast reports that In a drawn-out bidding war, a handful of players went above the $50 million mark, and the subsequent exchange was tense and witty. Auctioneer Tobias Meyer told one Sotheby’s employee “I love you,” when his client, by telephone, reversed a decision to drop out of the competition and bid over $100 million. Finally, Meyer, in a German accent by way of London’s Mayfair, announced, as he brought down the gavel:
“I shall sell it then for the historic sum of $107 million.” Bang! (Sotheby’s commission rounded up the total.)
The winning bid was made by telephone through Charles Moffett, a top official at Sotheby’s and former chief curator of the National Gallery who normally deals with U.S. clients. He was smiling—but no one was happier than the seller, Petter Olsen. He’s using the proceeds to open a hotel and museum complex devoted to Munch in Hvitsten, Norway, and, after the sale, he gave a passionate and rambling speech that essentially argued that “The Scream” is a warning about emissions and saving the environment.
The hype had been deafening on the work; the auction sales pitch even compared it to the “Mona Lisa.” But it’s not actually a painting: It’s pastel on cardboard, and one of four “Scream” pieces (the other three are all in Norwegian museums).
But it proved such a powerful magnet, people close to the matter said, that most of the consigners to this week’s sales opted to sell at Sotheby’s over rival Christie’s, by a ratio of more than two-to-one.
This may have backfired on Sotheby’s, however, as the sale dragged on, and one out of five artworks didn’t sell or sold low, including some Munchs. The total raised was $330.5 million, one of Sotheby’s highest ever.
Sotheby’s CEO, Bill Ruprecht, said “not even crumbs” when asked for details, then ordered a double gin to celebrate. In Sotheby’s lobby, and after, in text message and calls, rumors flew: “Chicago hedgie…Microsoft co-founder …Brazilian banking widow.” According to David Norman, co-chairman of Sotheby’s, only eight people have paid over $100 million for a work of art, some of whom have never been identified publicly. Said one of the city’s top art dealers: “Low-profile European billionaire is your best guess” of who bought it.