Thursday, May 3, 2012

It now seems unreal that I saw Munch’s The Scream a couple of weeks ago in London, just before it headed off for auction at Sotheby’s New York. The same painting was sold last night for a record amount, almost $120,000,000.

Today, I have been thinking about what Munch would have made of this, both the hype, and perhaps more especially, the money. For much of his early life, Munch was destitute, depending on the generosity of benefactors and friends. Often, he could not even afford to eat. He was much influenced by the writings of his compatriot, Knut Hamsun, who make literary history in 1890 with his autobiography, Hunger, about himself as a young penniless writer. Indeed, the hardship Munch endured for much of his life mirrored that of the starving writer.

Munch never became wealthy, even later in life when he was well known as an artist and his work was openly acknowledged. This is perhaps not in itself surprising, as few artists have been truly materially endowed during their lifetime.

It is pointless to surmise what Munch would have made of today’s news. He thought of his paintings as his children, and where possible kept them together, and with him. Now his ‘children’ are scattered. Perhaps that is a good thing. Perhaps last night’s anonymous bidder will bring Munch to a corner of the world that has never before seen The Scream, and to people like me who, until very recently, did not have the opportunity.