Scream draws gasps as masterpiece sells for record-breaking £74m in bidding war

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The only privately-owned version of Edvard Munch’s classic masterpiece The Scream has fetched a record-breaking $119.9m (£74m) at auction.

The famous image, which features a despairing figure in front of a red landscape that also seems to twist and writhe in agony, surpassed estimates to become the most expensive work of art to be sold at auction following the sale in New York.

It is one of four versions created by the Norwegian expressionist painter.

The pastel version of one of the most recognisable images in the world had been expected to fetch at least $80m (£50.4m) at the Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale at Sotheby’s.

But it was finally snapped up for the world record amount by a phone bidder following a 12-minute bidding war. The price includes the buyer’s premium.

The previous record for an artwork sold at auction was $106m (£66.4m) for Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust, which sold at Christie’s in New York in May 2010.

Anticipation has been growing in the art world and the auction attracted global media interest.

Describing the dramatic sale, a Sotheby’s spokesman said: “A group of seven bidders jumped into the competition early, but it was a prolonged battle between two highly determined phone bidders that carried the final selling price to its historic level.”

The famous picture was put up for sale by Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen whose father was a friend and patron of the artist.

It was created in 1885 and is the only version with a frame hand-painted by Munch which includes a poem explaining his inspiration for the piece. One of the figures is also looking out.

The image spent a week on display at Sotheby’s in London before the auction – the first-time it had ever gone on show in the UK.