For a record $120 million, an art connoisseur gobbled up one of the art world's most recognizable images - Edvard Munch's "The Scream" at auction in New York City on May 2.
It is a painting of a man holding his head and screaming under a streaked, blood-red sky.
For a lot, lot less money, the collector could have witnessed a very similar scream … seeing my contorted face and wild, impassioned look after viewing my daughter’s credit card bill.
But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the 1895 artwork – a modern symbol of human anxiety – took center stage at Sotheby’s. The previous record for an artwork sold at auction was $106.5 million for Picasso's "Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust," sold by Christie's in 2010.
The consensus is that The Scream and the Mona Lisa are the most famous and recognized images in art history.
So what was the inspiration behind Munch’s masterpiece?
Munch (1863-1944), a Norwegian artist who was born in Oslo, had a hard life when he was young. Death and illness seemed to surround him. At five, he lost his mother (to tuberculosis); at 14, he lost his favorite sister (Sophie); at 25, he lost his father. Soon thereafter Laura, his sister, lost her mind and was committed to an asylum.
His painting, "The Scream," seems a way to sum-up what he must have been feeling through it all.
He actually tells us how the painting came about - in 1893:
“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.”
As a young artist, searching for meaning, Munch discovered the Russian writer Dostoevsky. Of him, Munch said:
“No one in art has yet penetrated as far [as Dostoevsky] into the mystical realms of the soul, towards the metaphysical, the subconscious ...” Dostoevsky, of course, had a profound reason for serious soul-searching. He had once been sentenced to death, by firing squad.
After he was in position, waiting for the bullet to strike him, he was reprieved - at the last second - by the Czar himself (who had never intended for the condemned young man to die).
The Expressionist painted four versions of The Scream. One was stolen, in 1994, and recovered (undamaged) three months later.
Another was stolen, at gunpoint, from the Edvard Munch Museum, in 2004.
The auctioned piece at Sotheby's is the only one left in private hands.