'The Scream' Auction: Is Edvard Munch's Pastel Really Worth $200 Million?

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By IBTimes Staff Reporter | May 3, 2012 4:17 AM EST

Edvard Munch's pastel version of his famous "The Scream" painting is expected to approach the all-time record for most expensive painting by fetching as much as $200 million when it is sold Wednesday evening at the Sotheby's auction house in New York City.

The 1895 pastel is the last of four original versions of Edvard Munch's masterpiece that remains in private ownership, and as a landmark piece of Norwegian expressionist art, it is being highly sought -- and valued -- in advance of the auction.

Sotheby's explains on its website that the work is unmatched in its representation of the Modern condition:

"A seminal image of the pulsating anguish of modernity, The Scream is among the most recognizable images in the history of art. Executed in 1895, this work is one of four versions of The Scream and the only one still in private hands."

Predictions of how much it could sell for range from $80 million to $200 million, and proceeds from the sale of the ubiquitous depiction of a spare man holding his head in an existential scream in front of a waterside scene reminiscent of Jean Paul-Sartre's novel "Nausea," will go toward the construction of a new museum, art center and hotel in Norway, according to the Associated Press.

Sounds like a positive cause for all those millions to go to, but the question remains as to why anyone would pay so much for an Edvard Munch piece, and if it's really worth tens of millions of bucks.

And according to some artsy types, the answer is an emphatic 'no.' Jerry Saltz, senior art critic at New York magazine, said on "CBS This Morning" on Wednesday that Edvard Munch is a marvelous talent, who paints with talent and feeling.

"[Munch's art] seems to be coming directly out of [his] nervous system like some sort of raw nerve, on a bridge, passing from his world to yours, from one world to another world, to one kind of a sunlight to another," Saltz said. "And a new psychology is being born. Something that's really familiar, right on the cusp of the most violent century in the history of the world."

But Saltz went on to say that it is "disgusting" to assign "this kind of value to ['The Scream']." He says the painting will most likely end up in a rich oligarch's private space, out of the view of art-lovers, which does a disservice to the art world and all those who would like to enjoy it in person.

"We're not talking about the work. We're just talking about the money. The money doesn't really mean much because I think this painting had been more or less lost to history. ... Now it's coming up for one night, where everyone will see it, and it will be gone again by tonight, 8:00 tonight. It will become a number, and in a private collection most likely."

It could end up in a museum Saltz says but then qualifies that by saying "my guess is it won't happen."

The highest price ever paid for a single work of art is $250 million, which was paid for the 1895 Paul Cezanne painting "The Card Players." It's hard to make the case that one version of "The Scream" should top that work's sale price, or even come within striking distance of it.

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