The Scream’s secret history
The masterpiece was held in the vaults of a major US museum for 17 years
By Martin Bailey. Web only
Published online: 05 May 2012
Munch’s The Scream, 1895 (right), which sold for $119.9m at Sotheby’s New York on Wednesday, has a surprising and hitherto undisclosed provenance. The masterpiece had been resting in the vaults of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, for 17 years, with few people even knowing that it was there.
The Sotheby’s catalogue states that The Scream was “on temporary loan 1990-91” to the museum. It was on display from May 1990 to July 1991. What went unrecorded by the auctioneers was that it was also “on deposit” from 1989 to 2006. A spokeswoman told us that the work was “very frequently” shown to university classes and scholars in the museum’s print room. However, its lengthy stay was not recorded in the 2007 Munch catalogue raisonné.
The museum must have hoped that at some point it might be able to acquire the pastel (one of four versions of The Scream), through either donation or purchase.
The Oslo businessman Petter Olsen, who owned the work, has said he will spend the money made by its sale to establish a new museum, art centre and hotel. The museum in Hvitsten, 40km south of Oslo, is due to open in May next year. Olsen still owns some Munchs, which he inherited from his father, Thomas, a ship owner who bought The Scream in 1937.
Olsen is planning an exhibition on the paintings created by Munch between 1906 and 1916 for the auditorium at Oslo University. The show will take place next year, when Norway celebrates the 150th anniversary of the artist’s birth.
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