Who will buy 'The Scream'?

May 1 2012

Image of Who will buy 'The Scream'?

Picture: Sotheby's

In the LA Times, Christopher Knight has an excellent piece looking at Sotheby's marketing of Munch's The Scream (selling tomorrow in New York), and what price it may make (a reserve of $80m is expected). First, an insight into how the picture has been touted around the world's art buyers:

A fascinating recent story about the sale in the Wall Street Journal noted that: "In a rare move, Sotheby's sent the work to private homes in Asia, North America and Europe so key clients could test whether the haunting image clashed with the rest of their art collections." Potential buyers from a tiny pool of possibilities were said to include "European executives, Asian big-spenders and Middle Eastern sheiks."

That sounds a tiny bit desperate to me. Secondly, Knight asks if a museum could afford the work, and concludes that yes, perhaps it could. Top of the list that can is the Getty:

In 1989, when the J. Paul Getty Museum went to auction and acquired Jacopo Pontormo's incomparable Mannerist "Portrait of a Halberdier" (1528-1530), the price paid was $35.2 million -- a public record for a 16th century painting. Adjusted for inflation, that's the equivalent of about $65 million today. "The Scream" is within shouting distance.

How about Vincent van Gogh's 1889 "Irises"? That Getty acquisition likely went over the Munch-mark [...] the payout for the purchase in 2012 currency would be more than $94 million.

Then there's Titian's stunning picture of individual power and tender pathos, the 1533 "Portrait of Alfonso d'Avalos, Marquis of Vasto, in Armor with a Page." Owned by an insurance company and on long-term loan to the Louvre, it was a 2003 private sale to the Getty, also at an undisclosed price. Reportedly it cost the museum $70 million. That's $87 million now -- meaning that, if accurate, the Getty has bought at least two works well within "Scream" territory.

I have no idea, but my hunch is that the Getty won't bid for it. They stretched themselves recently for the purchase of Turner's Camp Vaccino. And would any museum really want to spend at least $100m on a cliché? 

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that you can even place a bet on the bidding:

ODDS are 3-to-1 that when Edvard Munch’s “Scream” comes up for sale at Sotheby’s on Wednesday night, it will fetch $150 million to $200 million. And there’s a 3-to-2 chance that pastel will become the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction, breaking the current record of $106.5 million set two years ago at Christie’s for Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust.” As for who will buy “The Scream,” bets are 5-to-2 that it will be a Russian, 3-to-1 an Asian or European and 4-to-1 an American. That’s the thinking, anyway, from Ladbrokes, the British bookmaking chain, which has been analyzing the fate of what Sotheby’s is billing as the most recognizable image in art history after the “Mona Lisa.”

I presume Ladbrokes are taking bets on The Scream more with an eye to publicity rather than establishing the concept of gambling on auction prices. After all, auction prices can be very easy to predict. But if Ladbrokes ever open a book on Old Master sales, I bet you I could retire in a year...

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