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“The Scream” Up For Auction

Painter Edvard Munch’s iconic masterpiece “The Scream” is up for auction.  We’ll look at how that image — “The Scream” — has seared itself into our culture.

Staff stand guard by Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' as it is hung for display at Sotheby's Auction Rooms in London, Thursday, April 12, 2012. The painting made with pastels is one of four versions of the composition, and dates from 1895, it will be auctioned in the Impressionist and Modern Art Sale in New York on May 2, with an estimated price of 80 million dollars. (AP)

Staff stand guard by Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' as it is hung for display at Sotheby's Auction Rooms in London, Thursday, April 12, 2012. The painting made with pastels is one of four versions of the composition, and dates from 1895, it will be auctioned in the Impressionist and Modern Art Sale in New York on May 2, with an estimated price of 80 million dollars. (AP)

Norwegian painter Edvard Munch’s masterpiece “The Scream” is one of the best-known works of art in the world.  The hairless skull, the wide eyes, the wide-open mouth between two hands of the silent, wailing figure on the bridge.  The essence of angst in the human condition, in one universally powerful image.

Today, it goes on the auction block.  Huge money is expected.  But it’s the image itself, and the story behind it, that interests us.  From a real bridge between a slaughterhouse and a madhouse.  To the heart of the human condition.

This hour,  On Point:  Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”

-Tom Ashbrook


Don Thompson, expert on art economics, author of “The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: the Curious Economics of Contemporary Art.”

Sue Prideaux, author and art historian. Author of “Edvard Munch: Behind the Scream.”

Peter Schjeldahl, art critic for the New Yorker magazine. He has written extensively on the lasting cultural impact of Munch’s “The Scream.”

Photos: The Scream

From Tom’s Reading List

Businessweek “Its original power lies partly in its simplicity: All of Munch’s versions — though differing slightly in media, color and composition — are so pared down as almost to be cartoons themselves. The image is compelling visual shorthand for a feeling experienced by virtually everyone at one time or another: frantic anxiety and desperation.”

Artinfo “At the very highest end of the market, being the winning bidder means much more than just having a new canvas to hang on the wall. It means something, in terms of wealth and power, to be able even to participate in the compatition for an evening sale’s top lot.”

Financial Times “There are “Scream” mugs, tea towels, T-shirts. The child actor Macaulay Culkin aped the open-mouthed expression of horror in an advertising poster for Home  Alone. The villainous protagonist (and, of course, the title) of Wes Craven’s Scream series of schlock horror movies is based on Munch’s  startled figure. The New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik quotes his cartoon editor,  who says the magazine receives about two “Scream”-inspired cartoons a week”

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  • J__o__h__n

    I hope a museum buys it or a private collector who will loan it to museums frequently.  It would be a shame if it goes to some twit like the guy who bought the Picasso and put his elbow through it.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      Public money should NOT be ‘spent’ in this way!  $39 MILLION?  $80 MILLION?
          WHAT can it do for the public, that would be worth $10,000?

      • J__o__h__n

        Most museum’s spend money that is donated.  I’d rather spend public money on the arts than many of the ways it is spent.

  • corb

    Munch has perfectly captured the human reaction to smug, ego-stroking expenditure for art and artifact.

  • Terry Tree Tree

    SCREAM!  That’s about all that’s left for honest working people to do!  CRIMINALS have made it so!  GREEDY rich CRIMINALS have MOST, if not ALL control!
       I will continue to try to make it a better world, but it’s so frustrating that I want to give up and just SCREAM!

  • Josh

    The scene of The Scream was based on a real, actual place located on the hill of Ekeberg, Norway, on a path with a safety railing. The faint city and landscape represent the view of Oslo and the Oslo Fjord. At the bottom of the Ekeberg hill was the madhouse where Edvard Munch’s sister was kept, and nearby was also a slaughterhouse. Some accounts describe that in those times you could actually hear the cries of animals being killed, as well as the cries of the mentally disturbed patients in the distance. In this setting, Edvard Munch was likely inspired by screams that he actually heard in this area, combined with his personal inner turmoil. Edvard Munch wrote in his diary that his inspiration for The Scream came from a memory of when he was walking at sunset with two friends, when he began to feel deeply tired. He stopped to rest, leaning against the railing.  He felt anxious and experienced a scream that seemed to pass through all of nature

    • Random norwegian guy

       Munch had a hard time and had nerve problems and you are totally right except the real piece is in old norwegian and a bit different, I’m impressed

  • Stillin

    OH I love the scream! All my art student”s LOVE this peice!!! It is the one art work that never fails to motivate…I wish “the Scream” a happy home.

  • Dab200

    My Mom was dying of cancer at 74, after she lost her hair, a lot of weight, her body got kind of twisted, she looked exactly like the screaming figure in this painting. The only difference was that it was me who really wanted to scream. I never liked the Scream before because I felt it was too much pain in it but after this experience the pain is so personal that it is unbearable to look at it. The photo of my Mom is well hidden. 

    • Maryvanv

      I cried when I read your note, as it reminded me of my own agony of losing my mother to cancer – now over 20 years ago, but the pain remains of seeing her through her last illness, and occasionally something again triggers the tears..

  • Lynne

    There is a great M.Wuerker Politico cartoon using the Scream figure to make a point about the health care reform debate. It is headlined “Its the end of the world as we know it…again; a brief history of socialist plots to end the American way of life.”

    In appropriate garb for the times, the cartoon shows the figure in 1790 screaming “Public Schools? Socialism!!
    in 1808: Public Water System? Socialism!!
    in 1842: Public Highways? Socialism!!
    in 1905: Public Parks? Socialism!!
    in 2009: Public Health Care? Socialism!!

    Quite good use of the iconic image, I think.

  • Mike from Rutland, MA

    If Tom has an $80 Mil town house, I got to get me a job on public radio!

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    I’m with Indiana Jones on this subject:  It belongs in a museum.  This is why nations have national budgets.  We–the whole country–should be bidding on this for hanging in the National Art Gallery.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Museums came into being before reproductions became what they are today.  To me, The Scream is one painting I do NOT need to see.  I have it in my mind’s eye.  Ditto the Mona Lisa.  The icons I do not need to remind myself of.
         What I do look for has is new images.  I look for reproductions of the artwork in the Russian museums, for instance.  I look for artwork in general that young artists see as pushing the envelope.  I was doing that just this morning, and I see how the particular promotional catalogue blended Schiele and Van Gogh and Jackson Pollock with artists who are working today, and hoping for exposure.  And I look to see what new artists seek to add to our visual experience of the world, especially in this age when photography repositions the work of the human eye as a recorder and interpreter.
        But the art auction of the Scream — I think Bubble.  Bubble.  Bubble.

  • cnb

    Until this morning, I didn’t realize my own primal scream resembled the one by Munch.  Was never an artist, but I drew this about 15 years ago at a dark, dark place where I felt I was drowning.  The picture is ripped — cannot remember why but I know there used to be a hand on the left, forever just out of reach.  http://pic.twitter.com/c9nVwWsX

  • Barbara Cochrane

    I kept a copy of “The Scream” on the wall in my office.  It was a constant reminder of the shallowness of the corporate board of the companyI was working for and was a great inspiration to remove myself from its madness.  I have it hanging in my new office as a reminder to be true to oneself.

  • Dave

    I read years ago that the painting was based on the fear surrounding the eruption of Krakatoa a decade earlier.  No truth there?

  • BHA in Vermont

    It is amazing what the ultra wealthy will spend money on. Too bad it isn’t on things that provide benefits to society.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Art doesn’t provide benefit to society?  I’d say that great works like this are of much more benefit than many other things that could be bought.

      • Ellen Dibble

        But does the art auction house funnel their profits to the arts in general?  Or does it tend to create a top 1 percent, more or less out of touch with reality.  Probably a top 1 percent who later sells the piece for even greater profit, probably paying taxes at 15% — something like that.  I wonder.  But Munch is dead, so it is not he who profits.

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

          People want to make money.  So be it.  National museums can do some good in this by obtaining the art and keeping it for all time.

          • Ellen Dibble

            Lately I’ve gotten on my high horse for art being part of everyday life, not the possession of the wealthy.  It’s part of culture, not on top of it.  This began to dawn on me when I saw a Jackson Pollock painting being offered as an area rug.  And I’m seeing where Zazzle offers your artwork as a legitimate postage stamp, by which you can promulgate your own self, if you will buy these stamps at about an extra 50 cents.  I’m thinking Way To GO!

  • Carey Baumgarten

    I traveled in Norway in the late 70′s and was incredibly struck by the public art in Oslo.  The Scream is certainly a vision of despair and existential hopelessness that has always left me sad and depressed.  Oslo is also inhabited by enormous statues of solemn, strong, human forms; I was troubled by their apparent lack of individuality, emotion, warmth or hope.  They looked like visions of working people who held little connection with each other and whose life was not pleasant.  
    By contrast, Norway is one of the most dramatically, naturally beautiful places I have ever seen.  I found it difficult to reconcile the extraordinary beauty with the overpowering art in the capital.  I have not been there since, and don’t know how I would experience it at this point in my life. 

    • Josh

      I once was talking to a ferry agent in Alaska while planning a trip there. 

      I asked her what were the most beautiful sections of the route. 

      Her reply, “it’s pretty much all the same”.

      I often find that the people who live in these beautiful places don’t seem to even see them. They take the landscape for granted.

      I guess you need the contrast of living in awful places to appreciate the beauty.

      • Terry Tree Tree

        Could she have been meaning it’s ALL beautiful?

    • Mikeg5492

       Interesting, I remember reading Knut Hamsun in 11th grade. His Pan and first novel Hunger are remarkable descriptions of man as you describe him in the midst of the most beautiful and majestic( though perhaps indifferent) nature. I believe he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1920.

  • AL from NH

    I wish I could attach a picture of my version of the scream. I was taking a barn apart and suddenly gasped when I saw this old weathered board about 4 feet by 11 inches. There were 3 knotholes that looked like the eyes and mouth in the scream. I cut two small branches with and attached them to look like hands raised in horror or surrender. That was 30 years ago and I look at it every time I go into my shop.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I may have missed it on air — I’ve been here and there — but I think the insanity running in Munch’s family probably features.  Maybe the protagonist is holding his head, not his ears, holding it together so to speak.  I’m looking now at throwbacks in our awareness and marketplace of ancient remedies for dizziness, vertigo, fainting, homeopathic, Chinese acupuncture pressing on points that would stabilize panic.  It seems to me when chiropractors and physical therapists ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10, and one thinks of being burned alive or flayed alive, there you are at .002.  And in terms of the brain feeling coherent and totally in control, then when we think of the scale of 1 to 10, this is an effort to portray the 10.  It’s a pretty good marker, it seems to me.

  • Terry Tree Tree

    “The Scream”, AFTER an episode about WHINING, OVERPAID, lawyers?  
       NO public museum should pay $MILLION for ANY work of art.  Public funds should be better spent!

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       What’s a better way to spend money than to preserve cultural treasures?

      • Terry Tree Tree

        Provide living-wage jobs, with health-care, for 6,000 families, for a year?

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

           That’s giving a man a fish for one day, while preserving this work of art can last for centuries.

          • Terry Tree Tree

            I see it as 6,000 Families fishing for a year, and surviving.
               Different perspectives.  Different values.

    • J__o__h__n

      The arts are essential and should be funded for the public’s enjoyment and education.

      • Brett

        Here, here! Of course as long as the funding streams aren’t TOO dictatorial about what should and should not be funded. 

    • Warren

      Excuse me sir,but I have a problem with people “Capitalizing”.Are you yelling.You seem a very covetous being,prone to oppressive jealousies

      • Terry Tree Tree

        Fredrick Douglass Manning?

  • Leilei

    Love and Healing to the last caller who lost his son, and really isn’t that the purpose of art; to raise and express un-vented emotion and bring us together in one emotional space when we view it?

  • Andrea

    I don’t want to trivialize the darkness of this painting or the comfort it provides for anyone suffering….but it’s also been an important source for countless parodies that bring much needed levity or pressure valve to the stress of being alive….

    • cnb

       Its utility for expressing either anguish or levity speaks to its value.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I have a copy of a Munch painting that I bought during Communist times at an art gallery in Prague.  There are girls dancing in a kind of glade, with a black figure in the lower left, watching.  The sense of great feelings of freedom and light being sort of threateningly watched, that is it.  It makes a lot of sense to me.  It’s beautiful, but you have to keep in mind the corner.

    • Ellen Dibble

      Perhaps I should say this reproduction, a large poster, which I place in many locations, such as blocking the wind in a window, was actually part of another artistic exploit, where a young violinist had come to Prague for a very special violin, and for some reason thought she had to smuggle it out, and she persuaded me to take the bow out of Czechoslovakia and onto the plane to Germany stuck down the rolled-up poster of Munch’s.  This protected the poster from flopping over, and protected the bow as well.  

      • Brett

        Great story! As someone who knows and works with many violin players, the bow is as important as the violin. ;-)

      • Tina

        Hi, Ellen!  Interesting story!

  • Ellen Dibble

    I don’t know if I can post a link, but in seeking my own reproduction, I find a set of Edvard Munch’s here.  

  • Ellen Dibble

    Here is mine.  If it will come up.  http://www.tfsimon.com/edvard-munch-dance-on-the-shore-prague.jpg

    • Mr_Trees


      Beautiful painting.  Bravo!

    • Brett

      I love the sense of color and movement and the two female figures in the light juxtaposed beside the two in black somewhat obscured by the tree. The tree itself has a movement quality, as well, sort of caressing the whole thing and seemingly in a slow dance with a breeze. The “fire” (my thought) in the lower left wafting up as if the whole thing has a dream quality/is being conjured. Thanks! 

      • your listener

        Well articulated.., Brett!

        I’m personally quite fond of this one too.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      Interesting!  The body in the lower left?

  • Daniel

    great art always has a bit of humor, even if it’s dark humor.  Look at Bob Dylan’s singing style. There’s that “are you kidding me?” aspect to it.

  • LauraR

    Interesting note: it is thought that the orange sky in The Scream echoes the lurid deep orange sunsets brought on by the eruption of the volcano Krakatoa in 1883.  For months and even years after the eruption, the whole world experienced these vivid orange and red sunsets.  One can imagine that the character in The Scream is horrified by this bizarre natural event in addition to whatever existential angst is bothering him.


    • Tina

      When I went to Norway in 1974, I went often to the Munch Museum.  I came to believe that Munch was as much a realist as an expressionist.  It was the times:  what was in the air politically then in 1974 helped me see this. I came to believe that he was responding realistically to all that was around him in his time, which is overlooked when he is seen as an “individualistically expressive” artist.  Yes, he is that, but he was more receptive to what was going on around him, too!  And, yes, I’ve heard the orange skies did appear as far away from Krakatoa as the Scandinavian countries. 

      Please note that LauraR and I corresponded without swear and scatological words.   

  • J__o__h__n
  • Victor Vito

    For all of you working multiple jobs, driving old wrecks, with no shot at retirement or helping your kids with college…

    Please remember that some individual who breathes air and walks about like you has around 80 million dollars to spend on a picture.  Not charity, or any sort of development to help mankind.  Instead 80 million dollars will be spent as a boost to a millionaire’s ego.

    Remember things like this when you vote.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      WELL SAID!! 

  • williambanzai7
  • Brett

    In the end, maybe all we’ll have left is art…at least our imaginations. If there’ll be that it comes down to one thing left, I hope it is art. 

  • Free Palestine

    Munch’s enduring painting, and even the title of it,

    sums up what 1.5 million innocent and subjugated Palestinians have to endure on a daily basis at the hands of their cruel oppressors,

    in the world’s largest concentration camp, the Gaza Strip.

    • Alan in NH

      As long as we’re reaching for visual metaphors for all manner of oppression, I think the painting actually sums up what untold numbers of Arab women in their native countries and abroad have had to endure from a backward and demeaning culture every day for at least the last fourteen hundred years but probably considerably longer.

      A fairly permissive definition of “concentration camp” being used I think…

      • Terry Tree Tree

           Arab Spring Freedom, EXCEPT for women?

        • Don_B1

          At the time of the U.S. Revolution, women could not vote or own property (except as widows) with those impediments taking up to 150 YEARS to remove.

          Islam, as practiced by Arabs (less so by other ethnicities/races) is just beginning the equivalent of the Reformation. Arab culture, which a Palestinian Imam said Mohammed was trying to “humanize” has so far largely rejected that view. But give the Egyptians a few decades to work things out and the disbelievers may well be surprised. Slow but (nearly) steady is usually better than a violent takeover by a group that has only learned how to govern from bad models.

      • aj

        ” I wonder if heaven got a ghetto. “

      • aj

        Nader calls Gaza “the world’s largest open air gulag.” Are you smarter than Nader?…careful. By you implying daily life there ‘is not so bad’ because it’s not an exact replica of the Treblinka extermination camp, has a similar stench. Like Shitt Romney and his forked tongue claiming ‘Old Seamus’ loved riding in his “air tight” crate on top of the roof in his own piss and shit doing 75 mph on the interstate foe 15 hours. 


        P.S. The only thing you know about Arab people is what your corporate-zionist masters tell you. In other words, you don’t know shit about Arab women. my opinion

        As-Salamu Alaykum Alan

        • aj

          similar, should have been familiar

      • fascist apostrophe

         I think illustrates the demeaning christian culture in the US–and the absolute moronic conservative culture decent Americans have to deal with every day.  The world would be a better place without conservative republicans, Israel-thumpers, tea bags, koch brothers, Chenyites and scrotum hairs who couldn’t graduate from high school let alone YAle–and all their terrorist buddies.  Scream! Blue America is beautiful and worth defending. Red America is blood and horror and should perish from the earth.

    • guest


      • aj


    • aj

      Free Palestine from the grip of the world’s biggest state sponsors of terror. Go inside a classroom in Gaza city when an Israeli terrorist drone is heard overhead and see the faces of the children. See the fear, the Terror, the tears in a little boys eyes, and you will see the Munch agony manifested.

      Praise you Free Palestine! This forum is made up of 70% Jewish zionist sympathizers, it takes courage to tell the truth. Fuck Israel! Love Palestinean Christians, Druze, Muslims, and Jews!

    • aj
  • Random norwegian

    I think that you should give Munch some credit for this, he had severe nerve problems and some mental illness and were for a short period in a mental hospital, the only thing he did there was drawing. This man only drawed for his whole life, he didn’t get any kids or a wife. Scream was made by him after he walked with two of his friends and stopped, leaned against the fence while his friends walked on while he felt the nature crying. I think the pictures deserve such a price and when it comes to saving people you should be able to do that without money.

  • Warren

    When I see the “Scream” certain images are conjured:
    1.Democrats realizing that Mr.Romney will win in a landslide.
    2.Leftists bemoaning the utter collapse of OWS.Perhaps the fact that the boys in Cleavland were willing to murder innocents
    3.Leftists realizing Pres.Obama(he of the Nobel Peace Prize)has obligated us to another 12 years of war
    4.Elizabeth Warren being outed as a fake Cherokee,who used this is a P.C. career enhancer
    4.Mr.Lovelock,Climate Guru to Mr.Gore and his mea culpa.He now says the threat of global warming is not imminent and was overblown.He appologizes for climate extremists.

    In all seriousness,I wouldn’t be surprised if the painting fetches 50 million.The artist is second tier,but this one ouvre is spectacular.His later works were quite happy and lively.He probably fell in love.

    • fascist Apostrophe

       your ignorant politics makes one scream

    • Terry Tree Tree


    • Eliezer Pennywhistler

       What a load of hooey.

    • Don_B1

      More like the agony felt by the radical right when Obama won in 2008 (and will be felt again when he wins in 2012).

    • Tina

      Go to the Munch Museum in Oslo.  He is NOT “second tier”! 

  • NJP Thompson

    If anyone out there would like a painting of The Scream I can do one for you for only a million.

  • Heaviest Cat

    Tis should not be sold to a private colector. It should be placed in a well-known and respected museaum where everybody can see it.

    • Warren

      Your spelling is atrocious.Attend to that before you preach your moralities

      • Abcdf

        Your spacing is atrocious. Learn to put a space after periods.

      • fascist Apostrophe

         bite it! no need for the grammar morality police.

      • Terry Tree Tree

        YOU made a punctuation mistake!  Plus, YOU have spacing problems!  Still want to preach?

      • Terry Tree Tree

        Looks like Moda is back, as Warren.  More polite, for now.

    • Jason___A

      It just sold for $119 million!  I could SCREAM that anyone has that much money laying around to pay for anything!

      • Eliezer Pennywhistler

         Maybe if you got a job ……

        • Stevemnr156

          Middle Class Americans make about $2 – $6 million in their lifetimes, BEFORE taxes.

          • Eliezer Pennywhistler

             Haven’t really worked out that ould humour sense, eh wot?

          • Brett

            You could never be accused of being charming, that’s
            for sure.

          • Eliezer Pennywhistler

            And your point is?

          • Eliezer Pennywhistler

             Not charming, maybe, but funny.

        • Brett

          Ah, the old Pennywhistler is back. How about commenting on art, the painting…something. You seem to show up once in a blue moon to snipe at someone and then disappear. How brave and righteous of you.  

          • Eliezer Pennywhistler

            My comment was addressed to the sad sack who couldn’t deal with the fact that the world has rich people in it … and he ain’t one of ‘em.
            Hmmmn. Comments on art, the painting. Let’s see …

            I see crapola about the Palestinians, public radio pledge drives, spelling, grammar and spacing, Democrats realizing that Mr.Romney will win in a landslide, leftists bemoaning the utter collapse of OWS, the fact that the boys in Cleavland [sic] were willing to murder innocents, Pres.Obama (he of the Nobel Peace Prize), Elizabeth Warren, Mr.Lovelock, the Climate Guru to Mr.Gore and his mea culpa, subjugated Palestinians, this forum being made up of 70% Jewish zionist sympathizers, fuck Israel!, the demeaning christian culture in the US, Nader, Gaza, women not allowed to vote in the US, all of you working multiple jobs, driving old wrecks, with no shot at retirement or helping your kids with college… , WHINING, OVERPAID, lawyers, knotholes, a ferry agent in Alaska, and postage stamps.

            And when I look for your complaints about these comments that are not “on art, the painting…” I see a big goose egg. A vast emptiness.

            So you can take your bravery and righteousness and go fuck Israel.

          • aj

            correction: That was “Fuck Israel!” with a capital F.

          • Eliezer Pennywhistler


          • aj


          • Eliezer Pennywhistler

             Capital f Fuck you!

          • aj


      • Eliezer Pennywhistler

         So, ah, the fact that there are rich people in the world offends you and makes you real real angry about them …. and yourself?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Lake/100000246324434 Peter Lake

    I think the subject in the painting is listening to a public radio pledge drive.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Lake/100000246324434 Peter Lake

     I think the subject in the painting is listening to a public radio pledge drive.

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