NEW YORK (Reuters) - Edvard Munch's painting "The Scream" sold for a record $120 million at auction on Wednesday at Sotheby's, far exceeding pre-sales estimates of about $80 million.
The vibrant piece from 1895, the most famous art work in the world still remaining in private hands, went under the hammer at Sotheby's Impressionist and modern art auction, where clients and press packed the salesroom for the much-anticipated sale.
Bidding started at around $50 million for the work, one of four versions by the Scandinavian painter being sold by Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen, and elapsed over about 15 minutes until an unnamed bidder by telephone gave the final offer of $119,922,500, including commission. The sales room at Sotheby's erupted in applause and cheering.
The previous record for the most expensive work of art sold at auction had been held by Picasso's "Nude, green leaves and bust," which went for $106.5 million at Christie's two years ago.
In recent decades "The Scream," a picture of a person with hands pressed to head against a backdrop of swirling vibrant colors, has become a ubiquitous image appropriated for everything from coffee mugs to editorial cartoons. It is second in worldly fame to only the "Mona Lisa."
(Reporting by Chris Michaud)