Munch’s $119,922,500 Scream, and I

Reflections from an artist on witnessing a record art auction

by Isaac Hernández

As I type this, the Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale is broadcasting live on my screen. Claude Monet’s landscape painting (Lot 35), estimated to be worth between US$1 and $1.5 million dollars is on the block… and it just sold for $2.3 million. It’s pretty exciting to watch people spending so much money on art, even if it seems extravagant. Camille Pisarro’s Lot 36 just sold for $1.3M. Manet is next, then Renoir, Pissarro… The millions are flowing faster than I can type. Constantin Brancusi’s Prométhée (Lot 43) just sold for $11.25M, well over the estimated $6-8M; to think I could have hit the “Bid” button and it could have been mine.

The star of the auction, Edvard Munch’s The Scream, has already sold, well above the starting bid of $50 million and even past the expected $80 million, to reach almost $120 million in just 12 minutes. It now holds the record for the highest price paid for a piece of art at public auction. Before today, Pablo Picasso’s Desnudo, hojas verdes y busto was the most expensive art piece sold at auction. In a private deal, the record goes to one of the five versions of The Card Players, by Paul Cezanne, sold to the country of Qatar for over $250 million, as the prized jewel of a new art museum.

Did Edvard ever suspect that his pastel would sell for $119,922,500? He might have been honored and outraged at the same time; screaming, if I may say. Toward the end of his life, he lived a spartan existence in Norway. Upon his death in 1944, he donated all his works to the City of Oslo, who founded the Munch Museum in 1963.

There are four versions of The Scream, but this is the only one in private hands, and mounted in its original frame was painted by the artist with a poem describing his inspiration. Thomas Olsen, a friend, neighbor and patron of Munch, who helped the artist to hide his paintings away from the Nazis,  bought it in 1937. His son Petter will use the proceeds of the sale to fund a new Munch museum, art center and hotel in Hvitsten, Norway.

People often say that the above oil pastel I painted in 1990 reminds them of Munch’s The Scream. It was one of my first self-portraits. I was not thinking about Munch’s masterpiece when I drew it, but rather about how to draw while having both of my hands in the painting. As I always paint my self-portraits looking at a mirror, I had to switch hands back and forth; the right side of the painting is drawn with my left hand and the left side is done with my right.

Other people say that my paintings remind them of Van Gogh’s. I take it as a compliment, even though it’s also a bit sad, because I don’t intend for my self-portraits to look like those of anyone other than my own.

Incidentally, no art pieces by Van Gogh were offered at this auction, but two of his painting are among the top ten highest priced ever sold at auction: Portrait of Doctor Gachet (1890), sold to Ryoei Saito for $82.5M in 1990 (he was so in love with it that he wanted it to be cremated with him upon his death), and Portrait de l’artiste sans barbe (1889), sold for $71.5M in 1998.

I don’t think my 1990 self-portrait looks like Munch’s painting at all. If anything, it was inspired by the work of artist Bonnie Blau, my teacher at the time. If you want to buy this painting, or any other of my self-portraits, come by Roy!  in Santa Barbara, this coming June, where I’m honored to have a solo exhibit featuring a dozen self-portraits, offered for sale well below $119,922,500. If my paintings are really anything like Munch’s, Van Gogh’s, or anything in between, your grandchildren may have a great return on your investment. There will also be limited edition giclée prints for sale, and an eBook with a collection of self-portraits from the last 30+ years. Or you can just hang out at the opening on June 7 (6 to 8pm) and have some fun.

The last lot of the auction has hit the block. The other top prices have gone to Picasso’s Femme Assise dans un Fauteuil (1941), sold for 29.2 million dollars. Salvador Dali’s Printemps Nécrophilique (1936), sold for 16.3 million, and Joan Miró’s Tête Humaine (1931), sold for 14.9 million. I was distracted typing, and missed my chance to bid.

It’s not a bad day for Spanish art. Hey, I’m immigrant from Spain, just like Picasso and Miró. I wonder if that increases the value of my art, even slightly. Don’t get me wrong, I know I don’t compare to Picasso… and I’m still alive.

The Scream, in Munch’s Own Words

Nice - 22.01.1892.

I was walking along a path with two friends—the sun was setting—suddenly the sky turned blood red—I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence—there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city—my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety—and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.      

—Edvard Munch

The Other Screams:

• 1893 (tempera and crayon on board), at the National Gallery of Norway

• ca. 1893, (pastel on board) thought to be a preliminary sketch for the work, at the Munch Museum in Oslo

• ca. 1910 (tempera and oil on board), at the Munch Museum in Oslo

• Munch also created a lithograph of the image in 1895

 

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