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One of four versions of The Scream by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, which dates from 1895, will lead Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale in New York on May 2. (Sotheby's/Associated Press)

The Scream, Edvard Munch masterpiece, will be sold at a New York City art auction this spring.

Sotheby's announced Tuesday that the work will lead its Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on May 2.

The work, which dates from 1895, is one of four versions of the composition. The auctioneer says it's the only version still in private hands.

The head of Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art department in New York, Simon Shaw, says the price could exceed $80 million US. 

The drawing of a man holding his head and screaming under a streaked, blood-red sky is being sold by Norwegian  businessman Petter Olsen, whose father was a friend and patron of Munch's.

"I have lived with this work all my life, and its power and energy have only increased with time," Olsen said.

"Now, however, I feel the moment has come to offer the rest of the world a chance to own and appreciate this remarkable work, which is the only version of The Scream not in the collection of a Norwegian museum."

Olsen said proceeds will go toward the establishment of a new museum, art centre and hotel in Hvitsten, Norway, where his father and Munch were neighbours.

Sotheby's said in a news release that this pastel-on-board version of The Scream is the most colourful and vibrant of the four and the only version whose frame was hand-painted by  the artist to include his poem detailing the work's inspiration.

In the poem, Munch described himself "shivering with anxiety" and said he felt "the great scream in nature."

The work will be on view at Sotheby's in London

Another version of The Scream was the subject of a brazen daylight theft that sparked headlines worldwide. 

A trio of masked, armed men burst into Oslo's Munch Museum in August 2004 and ripped The Scream and another canvas, Madonna, from the wall before escaping. The artworks were eventually recovered and painstakingly restored by experts, though the theft drew attention to the museum's lax security system and forced major security upgrades.