A version of the painting The Scream sold a few years ago for almost $120 million, making it the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction at the time.
This universally recognized, and widely parodied, work was created by Norwegian Edvard Munch (1863-1944), an intensely serious artist who is widely believed to have been bipolar.
Depression and mental illness were poorly understood and even considered shameful in the time he was creating, which would have made this piece shocking and even distasteful to its audience.
So what is this painting about anyway?
It is an unforgettable image of modern alienation that Munch recorded the genesis of in his diary: "One evening I was walking along a path; the city was on one side, and the fjord below. I was tired and ill… the sky stained red… I sensed a shriek passing through nature… I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood."
In the painting itself, the figure stands on a bridge and the scream comes directly from him, as something that might normally be considered beautiful (a sunset) becomes an agent of overwhelming dread. Anguish vibrates through the entire work as its swirling lines give pictorial form to his psychic experience and convey a loss of control, isolation, and mental agony.
The individual portrayed in the work has no discernible sex, age or ethnicity, making him/her an "everyman" that can be related to by people in all walks of life. Anyone can look at The Scream and say, “I’ve been there, or will be.”
What many people don’t know is that there are FOUR versions of The Scream.
The one sold at the Sotheby’s auction is the only version still in a private collection while the other three are in Oslo museums.
Munch never created a version in oil on canvas (the one sold was a pastel version from 1895) and art appraisers speculate that if he had, it would likely be valued at $810 million (what!?) in today’s market!