One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord– the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red, I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream.
–Edvard Munch, Diary 1889
This version of the classic painting The Scream by Edvard Munch has been in the news lately. It is the last of the four versions, this one being pastel on board with a frame painted by Munch, done by the Norwegian artist to be in private hands and it is coming up to auction in May at Sotheby’s. Seldom does a seminal piece of work come up for auction and there is great anticipation for this sale, estimates currently hovering around the $80 million mark. Yes, $80 million.
It’s really interesting how this image has resonated through the 120 or so years it has existed. It really seems to connect with some existential chord within many people, a raw nerve capturing the often sheer anxiety of our coexistence with nature here on earth. I think that most artists aspire to reach out through their work in such a way, to have the marks they make speak across time and cultures. To move in some way the everyman. To have their work seen as timeless.
It’s something that an artist may never realize in this life. The adulation of the now does not always translate through time. There are so many examples of artists and writers who were the most renowned creators of their era whose work never transcended their own time. Their work remains a mere artifact of their own time whereas someone seeing The Scream might instantly connect on a basal emotional level where they see it as being of this very moment.
So while part of me questions how the somewhat rough pastels strokes of the Munch work shown above are worth $80 million, I know that it is this rare air of timelessness that makes it so valuable. The stuff that dreams are made of, as Sam Spade so famously said in The Maltese Falcon. As in the movie, the stuff that dreams are made of are almost always priceless.