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Edvard Munch's iconic artwork The Scream sold for $120m

media captionSotheby's auctioneer in New York told one phone bidder "I love you"

Norwegian expressionist Edvard Munch's The Scream has become the most expensive artwork sold at auction, after it fetched $119.9m (£74m).

The 1895 pastel was bought by an anonymous buyer at Sotheby's in New York. Bidding lasted 12 minutes.

The work is one of four in a series by the Norwegian expressionist artist and was the only one still privately owned.

Proceeds of the sale are to go towards founding a new museum, hotel and art centre in Norway.

Seven bidders were competing for the work, which had a starting price of $40m. The crowd broke into applause, following the sale on Wednesday.

The sale price includes the buyer's premium.

The previous record for an artwork sold at auction was for Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust, which sold for $106.5m in 2010.

According to Forbes , The Scream is the eighth most expensive painting sold at a private or public auction, when prices are adjusted for inflation.

'Trembling with anxiety'

The other three versions of The Scream are all owned by Norwegian museums, but Sotheby's say the version they sold is the most colourful.

It is also the only one to include a poem by Munch on the frame, which talks of the inspiration behind the series of works.

It reads: "I was walking along a path with two friends - the sun was setting - suddenly the sky turned blood red - I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence - there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city.

"My friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety - and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature."

The piece was sold by businessman Petter Olsen, whose father was friendly with the Norwegian artist.

Earlier this year, Mr Olsen said he had decided to sell The Scream because he wanted to "offer the rest of the world a chance to own and appreciate this remarkable work".

After the sale, he said: "I hope that the publicity given by this sale will increase public interest in Munch's work and awareness of the important message that I feel it conveys.

"The Scream, for me, shows the horrifying moment when man realises his impact on nature and the irreversible changes that he has initiated."

Sotheby's auctioneer Tobias Meyer said the painting was "worth every penny".

"It is one of the great icons of art in the world and whoever bought it should be congratulated," he said.

"This evening's sale was a dream for an auctioneer and to be able to sell The Scream for over $100 million was a moment that I cherish as an auctioneer."

The painting has become one of the famous works of art in popular culture.

media captionPhilip Hook from Sotheby's says the only privately owned version of Edvard Munch's masterpiece The Scream could fetch more than $80m (£50m) at auction

"Together with the Mona Lisa, it's the most famous and recognised image in art history," Michael Frahm, an art adviser with Frahm Ltd, told the Associated Press news agency.

He added that it has been "used by everyone from Warhol to Hollywood to cartoons to teacups and T-shirts".

Two of the other versions of The Scream were stolen, in 1994 and 2004 respectively. Both were later recovered.

More on this story

  • What makes The Scream so iconic?