NEW YORK — A version of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” one of the most recognizable images in art history, sold at Sotheby’s on Wednesday night for $119.9 million, the most ever paid for an artwork at auction. It easily surpassed recent records like the $104.3 million spent on the Giacometti bronze “Walking Man I” at Sotheby’s in London in 2010; the $106.5 million paid for Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” at Christie’s in New York a few months later; and the $104.1 million spent at Sotheby’s New York in 2004 on “Boy With a Pipe (The Young Apprentice),” also by Picasso.
Five bidders competed for “The Scream,” which Sotheby’s had estimated would bring $80 million and was sold to a telephone bidder.
Munch made four versions of the work, three of which are now in Norwegian museums; the one that sold Wednesday, a pastel on board from 1895, was the only one still in private hands. It was sold by Petter Olsen, a Norwegian businessman and shipping heir whose father was a friend, neighbor and patron of the artist.
“The Scream” has been reproduced endlessly in popular culture in recent decades and has also been a target for theft. Versions have been stolen twice, first in 1994, when two thieves entered the National Gallery of Norway in Oslo and fled with a “Scream” from 1893, and then in 2004, when gunmen stole the 1910 version from the Munch Museum, also in Oslo. (In both cases, the works were recovered.)