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Munch’s $120 Million ‘Scream’ Beats Rothko: 2012 Auctions

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'The Scream'
"The Scream" by Edvard Munch, one of four versions of the composition by the Norwegian artist, went on display at MoMA after selling for a record price. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

Dec. 19 (Bloomberg) -- The high-end art market plowed ahead in 2012 as collectors looked for alternatives to the stock market volatility amid the European debt crisis and concerns in the U.S. about a new budget.

The top 10 priciest lots added up to $594.6 million, a 44 percent increase from $413.6 million in 2011, according to Bloomberg calculations.

Lucrative estates and looming changes in the U.S. tax code brought trophy works to the block. Numerous artist records included Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” which was crowned as the most expensive artwork at auction.

“A lot of collectors thought it was time to take their winnings off the table because they weren’t sure what the tax rate is going to be,” said Michael Plummer, a principal of Artvest, a New York-based firm that provides investment advice for the art market.

Evening sales of Impressionist, modern, postwar and contemporary art in London and New York tallied $3.8 billion, up from $3 billion last year. Postwar and contemporary art accounted for $2.3 billion.

“In 2012, postwar and contemporary art became the dominant category,” Plummer said. “Postwar has become a new blue-chip where modern art was the blue-chip 10 years ago.”

Here are the year’s 10 most valuable artworks.

1. Munch’s “The Scream” set a record for a work of art at auction when it sold for $119.9 million at Sotheby’s on May 2.

The result smashed the previous top auction price of $106.5 million, established in May 2010 by Pablo Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust.”

The picture was consigned by Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen, whose father, Thomas, was a friend, neighbor and patron of the artist. It was bought by Apollo Global Management co-founder Leon Black, according to the Wall Street Journal. Black is also a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art, where “The Scream” is on view until April 29, 2013.

2. Mark Rothko’s fiery “Orange, Red, Yellow” sold for $86.9 million at Christie’s International in New York on May 8. The 1961 painting was one of 13 artworks being sold from the estate of David Pincus, the retired chairman of apparel manufacturer Pincus Brothers-Maxwell, who died in December 2011. Its price surpassed the artist’s previous auction peak of $72.8 million, set in 2007 for a painting from David Rockefeller’s collection.

3. Rothko’s “No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue)” sold for $75.1 million at Sotheby’s in New York on Nov. 13. The Rothko was consigned by Anne Marion, owner of Burnett Cos. in Fort Worth, Texas, whose husband, John L. Marion, had been Sotheby’s chairman and chief auctioneer.

The painting was among eight pieces selected by Rothko for his solo exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1954. In 1982, Ben Heller, a major collector and private dealer of Abstract Expressionism, sold the Rothko for less than $500,000.

4. A Raphael drawing sold for 29.7 million pounds ($47.8 million) at Sotheby’s in London on Dec. 5, an auction record for a western work on paper.

The black chalk “Head of a Young Apostle” was being sold by Peregrine Cavendish, the 12th Duke of Devonshire and deputy chairman of Sotheby’s, to raise money to preserve his home, Chatsworth House.

5. A watercolor landscape by the 20th-century Chinese artist Li Keran sold for 293.2 million yuan ($46 million) at Poly International in Beijing, on June 3.

Executed in 1964, “Mountains in Red” was the largest of seven such landscapes inspired by a Mao Zedong poem. The result was an auction record for the artist, more than doubling his previous high.

6. Roy Lichtenstein’s 1964 painting “Sleeping Girl” sold for $44.9 million at Sotheby’s in New York on May 9, an auction record for the Pop artist.

The image of a sultry blonde had been in the collection of Phil and Beatrice Gersh, who bought it from the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1964. The Gershes were founding members of the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Beatrice Gersh died last year; her husband, a former Hollywood agent, died in 2004.

7. Francis Bacon’s “Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror” tied with the Lichtenstein at $44.9 million at the same Sotheby’s sale.

The 1976 painting depicts a seated man wearing nothing but underwear, scribbling on a white sheet of paper, with his back and profile toward the viewer. The man is reflected in the mirror. It was the highest price for the British artist since the record sale of his “Triptych” for $86.3 million in 2008.

8. Andy Warhol’s 1962 “Statue of Liberty” sold for $43.8 million at Christie’s in New York on Nov. 14. The statue was depicted 24 times, in four rows of six images. Silkscreened in red over green ink on white background, the work was designed to be viewed through 3-D glasses. It had belonged to German entrepreneur Erich Marx, whose art collection became the core of the Hamburger Bahnhof contemporary-art museum in Berlin, and the Daros Collection in Zurich.

9. A Claude Monet painting of water lilies tied with the Warhol at $43.8 million. The 1905 canvas led Christie’s Impressionist and modern art evening sale on Nov. 7 in New York. The trophy from Wall Street executive Herbert Allen Sr., father of investment banker Herbert Allen, Jr., was the second-priciest Monet at auction.

10. Picasso’s 1932 painting of his young mistress Marie-Therese Walter fetched $41.5 million at Sotheby’s in New York on Nov. 8.

The canvas, “Nature Morte aux Tulipes,” at once a portrait and a still life, depicted Walter’s sculpted white head on a pedestal next to a bouquet of tulips and some sexually suggestive fruit. It was painted in just two and a half hours.

Muse highlights include Mark Beech on music, Richard Vines on European restaurants and Ryan Sutton on U.S. food.

To contact the reporters on the story: Katya Kazakina in New York at and Scott Reyburn in London at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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