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Antiques & Collectibles

‘The Scream’ buyer remains elusive

By Virginia Bohlin
Globe Correspondent / May 13, 2012
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The word was heard round the world that Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” sold at Sotheby’s this month for $119.9 million, the highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction, but word of who purchased the world’s most recognized painting is yet to be heard.

The purchaser was described by the auction house as “anonymous,” but it could likely be the royal family of Qatar, the tiny oil-rich Persian Gulf state, which was rumored before the May 2 auction to have shown strong interest in the pastel on board expected to bring in excess of $80 million.

Last year Qatar’s ruling family paid more than double that price when they purchased Paul Cezanne’s “The Card Players” in a private sale for over $250 million, the highest price ever paid for a work of art. The family has been quietly amassing an enormous art collection ostensibly for the 2014 re-opening of Qatar’s National Museum and in anticipation of the hosting of the 2022 World Cup.

Both Munch and Cezanne painted their masterpieces in several versions — “The Scream’’ in four and “The Card Players” in five — and in both cases each painting was the last of the versions in private hands.

“The Scream” had been for more than 70 years in the family of the consignor Petter Olsen, a Norwegian shipping heir. His plan is, he says, is to use the proceeds from the sale of the painting to build a museum, art center, and hotel in Hvitsten, a small town in Norway where his father, a patron of Munch, and the artist both had homes.

The 1895 version of “The Scream” was not only the last of the versions in private hands, but it also was the only one with a poem written in Munch’s hand on the frame.

The poem, obviously revealing the inspiration for the painting, recalls a walk with friends at sunset when the sky suddenly turned a bloody red. In part, it reads: “My friends walked on/ I remained behind/ shivering with anxiety/ I felt the great Scream in Nature. E. M.”

. . .

New York’s May auctions continue this week with the sale of American art on Thursday highlighted by major works by Edward Hopper and George Bellows, each with a a $5 million-$7 million estimate.

Hopper’s 1939 “Bridle Path,” being sold by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art with proceeds benefiting its Acquisition Fund, depicts three horseback riders in New York’s Central Park heading toward an ominous black void in the Riftstone Arch.

Bellows’s 1920 “Tennis at Newport” is one of four depictions of the sport that Bellows painted, two of them in major museum collections.

In 1919 while summering in Middletown, R.I., Bellows attended a tennis tournament at the Newport Casino and was so impressed with the sport and the elegant crowd that he painted two scenes, one of which is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection. Dissatisfied with the compositions of the first two paintings, he completed two more works in 1920, one of which is the painting being auctioned.

. . .

Major works will also be offered at upcoming auctions in the Boston area.

Headlining Grogan & Company’s auction next Sunday at noon at its Dedham gallery is “Homage to a Square/Late Sound” by the German-born American artist Josef Albers, considered the modern master of color. The 1964 painting of a black square on a gray square on a blue square has a $200,000-$400,000 estimate. It was one of moré than 1,000 works in a series executed by Albers over a 25-year period to study the effect of color and shape to create illusion.

Other highlights include “Bird in Bay” by the American modernist Milton Avery ($50,000-$100,000), “Still Life of Fruit “by the Austrian modernist Anton Faistauer ($30,000-$40,000), and “Cat’s Eye” ($15,000-$25,000) by Larry Poons (1937-), an abstract artist who studied at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School in the 1960s.

Two black and whites by the renowned photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-89) have estimates of $8,000-$12,000 and $3,000-$5,000.

. . .

A portrait of a young girl by Iowa-born Grant Wood (1891-1942) and two paintings by the Cuban-born artist Mario Carreno (1913-99) top the fine art offerings at Kaminski Auctioneers’ Thursday 6 p.m. auction at its ts Beverly gallery.

The portrait by Wood, whose “American Gothic” is the iconic image of 20th-century rural America, has a $100,000-$150,000 estimate. Carreno’s 1942 “Classic Nude” has a $100,000-$200,000 estimate while his 1947 abstract of a woman musician has a $60,000-$90,000 estimate.

“Woman at the Piano” an oil painting by Jane Peterson (1876-1965), has a $40,000-$80,000 estimate and Aldro Hibbard’s marine painting of boats docked at Gloucester has a $15,000-$25,000 estimate.

. . .

Skinner’s American and European Works of Art Friday at its Boston gallery features 594 paintings, ranging from Old Masters to contemporary works, to be sold at 4 p.m. following the noon sale of 174 prints and photographs.

Highlighting the auction is “Presque Une Joie” (“Almost A Joy”) by the Dutch abstract artist Karel Appel. It is expected to bring $80,000-$100,000.

Other top paintings include “The Old Mill’’ ($40,000-$60,000) by the Hudson River School artist Jasper Crospey and “Yachts Rounding the Mark” ($30,000-$50,000) by the marine artist James E. Buttersworth. Also expected to bring $30,000-$50,000 is the 9-by-12-inch “The Gossips,” depicting two elderly women. It was one of seven vignettes of various parings of adults created by Norman Rockwell as story illustrations for the Ladies’ Home Journal in 1936.

Highlighting the prints sale is Ansel Adams 1942 photograph “The Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming,” expected to bring $35,000-$45,000.

Virginia Bohlin can be reached at vbohlin@globeantiques.com.

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