Munch's 'The Scream' on view ahead of multi-million dollar auction

Story highlights

  • "The Scream" on display at Sotheby's in London ahead of its sale in New York
  • Vivid orange and blue pastel is due to go under the hammer next month
  • Experts say it is likely to sell for more than $80 million
  • 1895 work is one of four versions of the subject, and the last still in private hands

Edvard Munch's "The Scream" -- "the world's most stolen work of art" -- has gone on display in London ahead of its sale in New York next month, where it is expected to fetch more than $80 million.

The work is one of four versions of the same subject created by Norwegian artist Munch (1863 - 1944) in the 1890s -- and the only one still in private hands.

Simon Shaw, of Sotheby's in New York where the piece will go under the hammer on May 2, said "The Scream" was "the second most famous work of art in the world, after the 'Mona Lisa.'"

Copies of the painting have appeared on everything from postcards and umbrellas to mousemats. The image inspired Wes Craven's "Scream" film franchise, and was referenced in posters for the "Home Alone" movies, starring Macaulay Culkin.

"It has a double life," Shaw told CNN. "It is a key image in the history of modern art, but on the other hand, it has also become a cornerstone of popular culture: We all know it from the films and the cartoons, the parodies, the pastiches and the toys.

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"What is fascinating for me is that while everybody knows 'The Scream' -- it is one of the most recognizable paintings anywhere -- relatively few people have actually seen the original. What we know are the cartoons and the parodies."

Shaw, head of Impressionist and Modern Art at the auction house, said the picture's status as a high-profile target for thieves had only boosted its popularity.

"Of the four versions, three are in public collections in Oslo, and of those, two have been stolen in the past 20 years," he said. "Happily in each case the work was recovered, but that status as 'the world's most stolen work of art' has only added to its celebrity.

"The thefts got 'The Scream' onto the cover of newspapers and on television around the world, so it became more and more famous.

"When the National Gallery of Norway had its version stolen in 1994, visitor numbers actually went up -- people came from around the world to look at the nail and the empty piece of wall where 'The Scream' was supposed to hang."

The picture -- a vivid pastel, produced in 1895 -- is owned by Petter Olsen, a member of the Olsen shipping dynasty. His father Thomas was a friend and neighbor of Munch, and amassed a large collection of the artist's work.

Olsen is selling "The Scream" to fund the construction of a museum and arts center, Ramme Gaard, at Hvitsten, Norway, in which he plans to display the rest of his paintings. The new venue is set to open next year, the 150th anniversary of Munch's birth.

"I have lived with this work all my life, and its power and energy have only increased with time," said Olsen. "Now, however, I feel the moment has come to offer the rest of the world a chance to own and appreciate this remarkable work."

Sotheby's says it expects huge interest in the piece, which it says has the potential to draw visitors from around the world to any collection which stumps up the cash to buy it.

"The opportunity for a museum or a private collector to buy one of the great icons of art history is unlikely to be repeated any time soon," said Shaw. "We know there is a lot of demand, and very little supply. It has truly global appeal, and could go anywhere."