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Munch's The Scream fetches record $120m

The only privately owned version of Edvard Munch's The Scream - one of the most recognisable images in history - set a world record when it sold for $119.9m at Sotheby's in New York, far exceeding pre-sales estimates of about $80m.

The 1895 pastel of a man holding his head and screaming under a streaked, blood-red sky has become a modern symbol for human anxiety, popularised in movies and plastered on everything from mugs to Halloween masks. It is second in worldly fame to only the Mona Lisa.

Simon Shaw, head of the Impressionist and modern department at Sotheby's, said: "This is one of the very few images which transcends art history and reaches a global consciousness."

Bidding on Wednesday started at around $50m for the work and elapsed over for about 15 minutes until an unnamed bidder by telephone gave the final offer of $119,922,500, including commission. The sales room at Sotheby's erupted in applause and cheering.

The previous record was held by Pablo Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust, which sold for $106.5m at Christie's two years ago.

The version on auction was one of four created by the Norwegian expressionist painter. It was sold by Norwegian Petter Olsen, whose father was a friend and supporter of the artist. The three others are in Norwegian museums.

Sotheby's said the version that went under the hammer is the most colourful and vibrant of the four and the only version whose frame was hand-painted by the artist to include his poem, detailing the work's inspiration. In the poem, Munch described himself "shivering with anxiety" and said he felt "the great scream in nature".


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