Not many pieces of artwork become iconic. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa obviously is one; Michelangelo’s David is another. I would put Edvard Munch’s The Scream in that category.
Munch painted four versions of The Scream in 1895. Three are in museums in Norway, Munch’s native land. The fourth is being auctioned tonight. It is expected to be sold for at least $80 million, and if it fetches more than $106.5 million — the current record — before the auction is gavelled to a close, The Scream would become the most expensive painting ever sold.
It’s not hard to see why The Scream has become an instantly recognizable image in modern culture. The mindless horror evoked by the image of a screaming man on a bridge under a lurid sky can be used to capture our reaction to things as diverse as the futility of daily life, senseless crimes, and the Holocaust. I’m sure that more than one Norwegian dealing with the mass murder committed by home-grown madman Anders Breivik thought of The Scream when they read about Breivik’s unpardonable crimes.
It would be fitting if a painting that is so accessible, and so aptly related to modern life in so many respects, became the most expensive painting ever sold.