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What a scream!


A strangely sexless figure - is it man or woman, alien or earthling, a grown-up or a kid? - stands before a violently swirling landscape and stares directly out at the viewer, hands pressed to its skull-like head, mouth contorted in despair. There are other silent screams in art - the horse in Picasso's "Guernica, " or the one on the Odessa steps in Eisenstein's "Potemkin, " - but none has this strange power.


Experts expect the work to go for over $80 million. It could even break the record for the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction which is currently held by Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves which sold for $106m in May 2010. With such a hefty price tag, the buyer will most likely be an institution. The calls are already pouring in, says Simon Shaw, head of Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern Art department in New York


The painting has become an icon of modern anxiety and hopelessness. Till then art's staple depiction of pain was either in battles or crucifixions but this was modern man confronting himself, much before Freud. As a senior specialist of Sotheby's put it: "It is the image that launched a thousand therapists. "


Munch painted four versions of The Scream in 1893, all in mixed media - pencil, paints, and pastels - on cardboard. He also did a black-and-white lithograph which some find even more powerful than the paintings.


Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944 ) was a sickly child, a gloomy adult and an explosive artist who was haunted by images of death though he lived till 80. "The angels of fear, sorrow and death stood by my side since the day I was born, " he wrote in his diary.


Munch was inspired to paint the work after he saw a blood-red sky during a sunset walk and heard "a great unending scream piercing through nature. " Astronomers, however, say what Munch saw was debris from the 1883 volcanic eruption on Krakatoa that brilliantly colored the Oslo sky.


In 1994, two thieves entered the National Gallery of Norway and fled with the museum's 1893 version of The Scream. It was recovered later that year. A decade later, masked gunmen stole the 1910 version of The Scream, as well as his Madonna, from the Munch Museum, also in Oslo. Both works were recovered two years later.

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