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For screaming out loud

Edvard Munch's iconic masterpiece will now feed the ego of its super-rich owner. What a loss to art lovers.

india Updated: May 06, 2012 22:45 IST

Much admired and reproduced, and perhaps more lampooned and parodied, Norwegian artist Edvard Munch's The Scream went under the hammer at Sotheby's in New York on May 2. It was estimated to fetch around $80 million; the end of the bidding process, which narrowed down to two anonymous bidders on the phone, saw one of them grab the iconic painting at $119.9 million (almost Rs 600 crore). The phenomenal price fetched shattered all previous records set by art works being auctioned, including that by Pablo Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust in May 2010.

The painting, which depicts an androgynous creature with mouth agape and hands covering the ears standing against a background of brilliant colours, will now grace the walls of one whose deep love for the arts is in such perfect sync with his very deep pockets. Collecting art is an expensive and exclusive ego-boosting game played by billionaires, and Munch's masterpiece can only be the cherry gracing what must otherwise be an extremely rich assemblage of famous artworks. Art enthusiasts incapable of playing the big game have done their bit too, and sales of posters and prints of The Scream have shot up on online sites after the auction. Given that two of the painting's four versions have been stolen (and recovered) before, swindlers and pilferers, too, must be getting busy.

Critics generally agree that Munch's portrait peers into the heart of the modern man, only to let out a terrible shriek, signifying calamity as well as a collapse of order. Munch had a difficult childhood and a pessimistic temperament, and the Nordic gloom surrounding him must have helped him pour his darkest fears and feelings into the painting. If scores of parodies over the years (including Homer Simpson, no less) have ended up making the subject less dreary than it was intended to, the ultimate subversion must be the super-rich art collector gazing at that scream, the artist's fabled angst feeding his over-sized ego.