Edvard Munch's The Scream, one of the world’s most recognizable images, has been sold at auction in New York for a record $119.9 million US, making it one of the most expensive works of art ever.

The buyer is unknown at this time, CBC's David Common reported from New York.

The bidding ended at the historic sum of $107 million. The collector, who bid by telephone, can be expected to pay additional auction house fees that should bring the final payment for the 1895 painting to just shy of $120 million, Common reported. 

Sotheby’s had expected the painting would sell for more than $80 million US, but art experts agreed The Scream would likely draw a much higher price than that. Only a handful of paintings have ever been valued in the $100-million plus range at auction.

Art pieces auctioned for record prices:

  • Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust, Pablo Picasso, May 4, 2010, Christie's New York; $106,482,500
  • L'Homme qui marche I, cast in 1961, Alberto Giacometti, Feb. 3, 2010, Sotheby's London; $104,327,006
  • Garçon a la Pipe, 1905, Pablo Picasso, May 5, 2004, Sotheby's New York; $104,168,000
  • Dora Maar au chat, 1941, Pablo Picasso, May 3, 2006, SNY; $95,216,000
  • Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, 1912, Gustav Klimt, Nov. 8, 2006, CNY; $87,936,000
  • Triptych, 1976, Francis Bacon, May 14, 2008, SNY; $86,281,000
  • Portrait du Dr. Gachet, 1890, Vincent van Gogh, May 15, 1990, CNY; $82,500,000
  • Le basin aux nympheas, 1919, Claude Monet, June 24, 2008, Christie's London; $80,379,591

The image of a man holding his head and screaming under a blood-red sky has become a modern symbol for human anxiety, fear or suffering.

It is part of pop culture, "used by everyone from Warhol to Hollywood to cartoons to teacups and t-shirts to whatever else," said Michael Frahm of the London-based art advisory service firm Frahm Ltd.

Frahm predicted a new auction record would be set for The Scream

"Together with the Mona Lisa, it's the most famous and recognized image in art history," he said.

The previous record auction price was set in 2010 when Pablo Picasso’s Nude, green leaves and bust sold at auction for $106.5 million. Two other paintings have also set high prices, Picasso’s Boy With a Pipe, which sold for $104.1 million and Alberto Giacometti's Walking Man I which sold for $104.3 million.

Sotheby's said earlier that only eight works have sold for $80 million or more at auction. Private sales have set even higher prices, with the royal family of Qatar buying Paul Cézanne’s The Card Player for an estimated $250 million.

Munch, a Norwegian Symbolist painter who lived 1863 to 1944, created four copies of The Scream, three of them now in Norwegian museums. The pastel on board sold at Sotheby’s was the only work in private hands.

Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen, whose father was a friend and patron of the artist, sold the work to raise funds for a museum in Hvitsten, Norway, to house the rest of his father’s extensive art collection.

This version of The Scream is hand-painted by the artist with a poem in which Munch describes himself as "shivering with anxiety" and feeling "the great scream in nature."

The painting is one of a series Munch did reflecting on the extremes of human emotion, and it also has the distinction of being the most stolen painting in the world.

In 2004, masked gunmen made off with a version of The Scream in Oslo. It took two years to recover. A decade before that, there was another theft of a Scream in Stockholm, though investigtators were able to recover it several months later in a hotel room. 

With files from The Associated Press