Who Paid A Record-Breaking $120 Million For 'The Scream' Last Night?

sotheby's the scream auction

Photo: Courtesy of Sotheby’s

A version of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” sold at Sotheby’s last night for $119.9 million, shattering the previous record for a piece of art sold at auction.The auction house was packed for the evening Impressionist and modern art sale, but the winning bid came not from the audience but over the phone, and his identity has not been revealed.

So who was it?

There aren’t too many individuals or entities who can afford a $120 million piece of art.

Ahead of the sale, Sotheby’s expert Philip Cook told the Wall Street Journal that collectors usually don’t spend more than 1 per cent of their net worth on a single work of art. Based on that theory, there are only about 70 people—the number of individuals worth $12 billion or more, according to the Forbes list—who could afford “The Scream.”

There are also some other clues as to whom the buyer could be:

  • Charlie Moffett, the Sotheby’s specialist who took the winning bid over the phone, “often represents American buyers,” notes Kelly Crow at the Wall Street Journal.
  • It’s likely a private collector: In a rare move, Sotheby’s “sent the work to private homes in Asia, North America and Europe so key clients could test whether the haunting image clashed with the rest of their art collections,” the WSJ reported last week. It even stopped in Hong Kong for 48 hours.
  • Over at the Daily Beast, Alexandra Peers notes that rumours were flying in the Sotheby’s lobby post-sale: “Chicago hedgie…Microsoft co-founder …Brazilian banking widow.”
  • The nation of Qatar is another possible contender. It’s recently emerged as a leading collector of art and paid an eye-popping $250 million for Paul Cézanne’s The Card Players.
  • LA Times’ art critic Christopher Knight noted before the sale that while the piece would likely wind up on the walls of an international collector, it was possible that an art museum would pony up for it. He names the Getty, which has paid big sums for art in the past, as one contender.
  • The president emeritus of the Museum of Modern Art denied it had purchased the work, but art blogger Lee Rosenbaum noted that the museum actually tweeted about the sale, calling it “a bit of circumstantial evidence.” She thinks it was MoMA based on a few conversations with insiders.
  • The Daily Beast’s Peers seems to have her bets placed on Steve Cohen. She concludes her write-up:

The Greenwich, Conn. hedge-fund manger has a huge and spectacular collection of trophy art, owns a Munch, and takes home $1 billion in compensation a year, according to the Wall Street Journal. (His office didn’t return calls seeking comment ). Moffett, who took the winning bid, handled a sale of Cohen’s Manet at Sotheby’s two years ago. But isn’t Cohen known best for his collection of images of beautiful women? The Sotheby’s catalogue is careful to refer to the figure in “The Scream” as androgynous.

We’re still in the dark for now, but hopefully the buyer will be revealed sooner rather than later. Who do you think it was? Let us know in the comments.

Now see what else sold at Sotheby’s last night >

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