Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' Sells for a Record $119.9 Million in New York Auction

Edvard Munch's The Scream - P 2012
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Edvard Munch's The Scream - P 2012

The iconic portrait went to the highest artwork bidder of all time at a Sotheby's sale on Wednesday night.

Edvard Munch's "The Scream," one of the most famous portraits in the world, has sold for a record $119.9 million, making it the most expensive work of art ever auctioned off.

"The Scream," circa 1895, is the Norwegian artist's career masterpiece, a psychological thriller rendered in pastel featuring the iconic image of a man covering his ears in a state of apparent panic. An auction was held Wednesday night at Sotheby's in New York, with a heated bidding war starting at $40 million and shooting all the way up as five aspiring "Scream" owners from the U.S. in China battled over the painting, according to The Wall Street Journal.

In the end, the contest narrowed down to two telephone bidders, said the Journal, resulting in one anonymous winner. At one point, while surpassing the $100 million mark, auctioneer Tobias Meyer said, "Can I say I love you?"

The painting's auction price tag ranks above the $106.5 million shelled out in 2010 for Pablo Picasso's "Nude, Green Leaves and Bust" (dated 1932) and the $104.3 million paid for the Alberto Giacometti bronze sculpture "Walking Man I" (1960).

Munch created four versions of "Scream," and the other three are in museums; the one sold belonged to Petter Olsen, a Norwegian real-estate developer whose father was a neighbor of Munch's; the family kept the work in their living room, and during World War II, concealed it in a hay barn to protect it from the Nazis.