The Scream Sells At Auction For Record $120m

Hannah Thomas-Peter, US reporter

The Scream by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch has become the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction after being bought for $119.9m (£74m).

The piece went under the hammer at Sotheby's auction house in New York after a tense 12-minute bidding war between seven buyers.

The painting, which dates from 1895, had been expected to fetch at least $80m (£49.3m), but when the price rose past $100m (£61.8m), the 800-strong crowd inside the auction house burst into applause.

One bidder who was taking instructions from a client on the phone hesitated as the painting got more expensive.

This prompted auctioneer and Sotheby's head of modern art Tobias Meyer, to joke: "Don't worry, for $99m, I've got all the time in the world."

When the final bid was made, by an unnamed buyer over the telephone, the crowd gasped before cheering as the gavel came down.

The painting was bought over the telephone by an unnamed buyer. Once the sale was sealed, the room erupted in applause and cheering.

The previous record for the most expensive work of art sold at auction had been held by Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves And Bust which went for $106.5m (£65.6m) at Christie's two years ago. The name of the buyer has never been confirmed but it is rumoured that Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich was the buyer.

Head of Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art New York department Simon Shaw told Sky News Online: "I can't think of an occasion quite so historic as the presentation of Edvard Munch's The Scream.

"It's an image perhaps more recognisable than any other picture, which is part of our visual culture today.

"It's hard to think of another work which would be quite so transformative for a collector or a museum."

Part of the reason for the excitement around The Scream, which dates from 1895, is that it is the last of four versions of the painting in private hands.

The other three are all in museums in Oslo, two of which have previously been taken by thieves and subsequently recovered, making it one of the world's most stolen paintings.

It was sold by private collector Petter Olsen, whose father was friends with the artist.

Ahead of the sale, Mr Olsen said: "I have lived with this work all my life, and its power and energy have only increased with time.

"Now, however, I feel the moment has come to offer the rest of the world a chance to own and appreciate this remarkable work."

The Scream is often described as the defining image of the Expressionist movement.

David Norman, Sotheby's global head of Impressionist and Modern Art, told Sky News: "It has become, over the course of the 20th Century, the most representative image of the anxiety, the despair, the enormity of confronting human existence.

"During every era, especially the violence of the 20th Century and most particularly World War II and the Holocaust, the picture just keeps resonating and gathering strength as a commentary, and I believe it will continue to do that well in to the future."