February 7, 2006

Munch canvas fetches record $11 million in London

By Jeremy Lovell

LONDON (Reuters) - A canvas by Norwegian artist Edvard
Munch fetched $10.8 million at a London auction on Tuesday, a
record for the artist and $3 million more than the highest
price paid previously for one of his works.

"Summer Day," originally commissioned for a child's bedroom
but rejected as unsuitable, was sold to an anonymous buyer at
Sotheby's auction house.

It easily eclipsed the previous Munch record of $7.7
million paid in New York in 1996 for "Girls on a Bridge."

"Summer Day," once owned by leading Nazi Hermann Goering
until Adolf Hitler forced him to get rid of it after Munch fell
out of favor with the Nazis, was the centerpiece of a
collection of eight paintings by the artist in the sale.

Amid frenetic bidding, they went for a total of 16.9
million pounds ($29.5 million) -- well above the pre-auction

"The atmosphere was absolutely electric. I have never seen
anything like it before," a spokeswoman told Reuters.

Munch, who died in 1944, is hailed alongside Vincent van
Gogh as the originator of expressionism and is best known for
the nightmarish "The Scream."

A self-portrait painted in 1904 also came close to hitting
the previous record, selling for $6.3 million.

"There has been no group of Munchs like this on the market
in living memory," expert Simon Shaw said at a preview in
London last week.

Although "Deux Femmes," a late work by Paul Gauguin, was,
at 12.3 million pounds, the top priced work in the two-day sale
of impressionist and modern art on Tuesday and Wednesday, the
Munchs were the most anticipated.

Sotheby's impressionist and modern art specialist Philip
Hook said there was plenty of money around for the best works.

"There are two big emerging markets for top works of art:
Russia and South East Asia," he told Reuters. "This is a much
more knowledgeable market than in the late 1980s when it was
fueled by Japanese speculative buying."

He noted in particular another work in the sale, "Homme a
la Pipe," a late work by Pablo Picasso.

Ten years ago, before the boom in demand for contemporary
art, it would have fetched between 600,000 and 800,000 pounds,
he said. On Tuesday it sold for 3.1 million pounds.

A late Joan Miro, "l'Oiseau au Plumage Deploye Vole vers
l'Arbre Argente," went for 5.1 million pounds -- down from its
peak price of $18.5 million in 1989 but likewise benefiting
from the contemporary boom.

Other artists in what Sotheby's says is its highest-value
winter sale series include Egon Schiele, Claude Monet, Marc
Chagall and Eugene Boudin.