‘The Scream’ Heads for the Auction Block

February 21, 2012, 8:15 am 


2012 The Munch Museum/The Munch-Ellingsen Group/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NYThis version of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” dated 1895, will be up for sale at Sotheby’s in May.

 It has adorned everything from mugs and t-shirts to key chains, anti-George Bush campaign buttons, inflatable dolls and iPad covers. Now a version of Edvard Munch’s celebrated painting “The Scream’’ will be up for sale at Sotheby’s in New York on May 2nd, the auction house announced on Tuesday morning. Officials there estimate it could bring more than $80 million.

Munch made four versions of the composition, which has become the embodiment of angst and existential dread. Three are in Norwegian museums and this one, from 1895, is the only “Scream” still in private hands. It is being sold by Petter Olsen, a Norwegian businessman and shipping heir whose father, Thomas, was a friend, neighbor and patron of the artist.

 “I have lived with this painting my entire life,’’ said Mr. Olsen in a telephone interview, explaining that the painting had hung in the dining room of his family’s home in Oslo along with other Munch works including a portrait of Mr. Olsen’s mother from 1932. He has decided to sell the prized canvas because to own an artwork of this value and art historical import is “a huge responsibility,’’ he said. Mr. Olsen is also trying to raise money to build a cultural center at Nedre Ramme, some 25 miles south of Oslo, on the grounds where Munch lived from 1910 until his death in 1944. The center is to include an art gallery, where he intends to show a series of thematic summer exhibitions in collaboration with the Oslo Museum; these shows will include works from his vast collection of paintings by Munch. He also plans to restore Munch’s home and studio, which will also be open to the public.

 Besides being one of the most recognizable images in art history, “The Scream’’ is also one of the most often stolen. Versions of it have been taken twice, first in 1994, when two thieves entered the National Gallery of Norway and fled with an 1893 “Scream” (it was recovered unharmed later that year), and then in 2004, when masked gunmen stole the 1910 version as well as Munch’s “Madonna” from the Munch Museum, also in Oslo (both works were recovered two years later). Simon Shaw, who heads Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern art department in New York, said the auction house plans to take “extra precautions” when it puts the painting on view at Sotheby’s in London on April 13, and again in New York on April 27.

Mr. Shaw said this version of the painting is different from the others in several ways. It is the most colorful of the four, and the only version whose original frame was hand-painted by the artist with a poem describing a walk at sunset (“I felt a whiff of Melancholy — I stood / Still, deathly tired”) that inspired the painting. It is also the only “Scream” in which one of the two figures in the background turns to look outward onto the cityscape. Mr. Shaw believes this “Scream” has only been on view once in the United States, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington the early 1980s.

 “The Scream is unique,’’ he said in a telephone interview. “Everybody knows it, but paradoxically few people have ever really seen it in person. When you stand in front of the painting it’s really quite scary. It has the power to shock.’’

 In the 1930s Munch’s work was declared degenerate by the Nazis, who stripped museums across Germany of his paintings, drawings and prints. Mr. Olsen said his father was instrumental in rescuing 74 of these artworks by striking a deal with the German government in 1937.

 Wanting to be free to fight the Germans, he said, the family left Norway and moved to New York. But before they did, Mr. Olsen said his father took his own Munch collection — about 30 works, mostly paintings along with a few drawings and prints — and hid them in a neighbor’s hay barn in the mountains of central Norway. “The paintings and the barn survived the war,’’ Mr. Olsen said.

 In the years since, in addition to a vast array of kitsch objects that have been emblazoned with the “The Scream,” it has also been embraced by contemporary artists like Warhol, who produced a series of paintings based on the image in the early 1980s.

  Recently, Munch has been the subject of numerous museum exhibitions. In 2005 the Royal Academy in London held “Edvard Munch: By Himself,’’ and there has been a major Munch show nearly every year since, including at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2006 and the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009. A traveling show, “Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye,’’ closed at the Pompidou Center in Paris last month and is now on view at the Schirn Art Gallery in Frankfurt, Germany. A large retrospective planned by two museums in Oslo, the National Museum of Art and the Munch Museum, timed to the 150th anniversary of Munch’s birth, are scheduled for June, 2013.

Mr. Olsen said the proliferation of these exhibitions also made him certain that the time is right to sell his “Scream,’’ adding that he hopes it will find a good home.

For the kinds of bidders who are behind the auction market’s current high prices — extremely rich collectors who gravitate toward blue-chip artists and recognizable images — “The Scream” will likely seem an irresistible trophy.
“It’s a destination picture,’’ said Mr. Shaw. “Whether the buyer is an institution or a private collector, it’s a defining painting. It’s hard to think of another image that would anchor a collection in quite the same way.’’

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Robert E. Hecht Jr., dealer in classical antiquities, dies at 92

Robert E. Hecht, an American expatriate antiquities dealer who skipped in and out of trouble for much of his career, weathering accusations that he trafficked in illicit artifacts, including a 2,500-year-old Greek vase that he sold for more than $1 million to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, died on Wednesday at his home in Paris. He was 92.
His death was confirmed by his wife, Elizabeth.
An urbane world traveler with an often coy and seemingly imperturbable manner, Mr. Hecht began running afoul of the authorities in the early 1960s, when he was accused of dealing in looted art in Italy and smuggling coins out of Turkey.
In the case of the Greek vase, sold to the Metropolitan in 1972, an Italian judge, acting on a claim that it had been looted from an excavation site near Rome, issued a warrant for Mr. Hecht’s arrest; the warrant was subsequently revoked.
“I have never been involved in the illegal exportation of art objects,” Mr. Hecht declared to The New York Times in 1973, adding, “I have never spent one minute in a cell.”
The controversy over the vase — a vessel known as a krater that was used to mix wine and water and was painted and signed by the artist Euphronios in the late sixth century B.C. — lingered for more than 30 years, with claims and counterclaims and conflicting testimony.
Mr. Hecht repeatedly said he had handled the sale of the krater on behalf of its owner, a Lebanese coin dealer whose family had acquired it in 1920. The Italian authorities maintained that it had been illegally dug up and smuggled from an Etruscan tomb in Cerveteri, 20 miles northwest of Rome, in 1971. The Met finally returned the Euphronios krater to Italy in 2008.
By that time, Mr. Hecht had long been under suspicion of involvement in a conspiracy to steer looted artifacts through illicit channels to museums, including the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
The investigation began in the 1990s, when a raid on two Swiss warehouses used by Mr. Hecht and one of his so-called conspirators, an Italian dealer name Giacomo Medici, turned up photographs of dirt-encrusted artifacts. Italian officials said the photographs indicated that Mr. Hecht knew he was trafficking in newly — and illegally — unearthed treasures. Mr. Hecht acknowledged doing business with Mr. Medici but said he had no knowledge that the dirt-covered artifacts were stolen.
In 2000, investigators found notes for a manuscript in Mr. Hecht’s Paris apartment in which Mr. Hecht describes different versions of his life as a dealer. In one version, prosecutors said, he all but admitted that the Euphronios krater was unearthed at Cerveteri; in another, they said, he wrote that he acquired it from a Lebanese dealer. The first version, Mr. Hecht scoffed, was written as a lark — invented, he said, to illustrate the Italians’ version of events.
After a trial, Mr. Medici, who was said to have supplied Mr. Hecht with the Euphronius krater, was convicted in 2004. But Mr. Hecht, whose own trial began in 2005, was never convicted. Just last month a three-judge panel in Italy declared that the statute of limitations on the charges against him had expired.
A similar ruling ended the trial of another alleged conspirator, Marion True, a former curator of antiquities at the Getty, in 2010.
Their cases, closely watched in the art world, led many museums to institute policies preventing the purchase of ancient artworks with murky provenance.
Mr. Hecht’s lawyer, Alessandro Vannucci, said afterward that the decision to end the trial did not do justice to his client, who deserved to be exonerated.
“He was, if not exonerated, never proven guilty,” Elizabeth Hecht said in an interview on Thursday. “In 13 years they couldn’t find anything to pin on him. So I say he was innocent.”
Robert Emanuel Hecht Jr. (his wife was unsure whether his middle name was spelled with one m or two) was born in Baltimore on June 3, 1919, into the family that owned the Hecht chain of department stores. He graduated from Haverford College and served in the Navy during World War II. Fluent in German, he worked after the war as a civilian translator for the United States Army. Then he began classical studies at the University of Zurich and as a fellow at the American Academy in Rome.
Mr. Hecht’s first marriage, to Anita Liebman, ended in divorce; their daughter, Daphne Howat, survives him. In addition to his wife, the former Elizabeth Chase, whom he married in 1953, other survivors include a sister, Nancy Campbell; two daughters, Andrea and Donatella Hecht; four grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
“Bob was always someone who could let things fall off his shoulders, like a duck,” Elizabeth Hecht said when asked how her husband had borne such persistent and intense scrutiny by the authorities. “What he didn’t want to know about, he was able to ignore. He was very good at that.”

Leonora Carrington

Did Leonardo da Vinci copy his famous 'Vitruvian Man'?

Leonardo da Vinci's drawing of a male figure perfectly inscribed in a circle and square, known as the "Vitruvian Man," illustrates what he believed to be a divine connection between the human form and the universe. Beloved for its beauty and symbolic power, it is one of the most famous images in the world. However, new research suggests that the work, which dates to 1490, may be a copy of an earlier drawing by Leonardo's friend.

Another illustration of a divinely proportioned man — the subject is Christ-like, but the setting is strikingly similar to Leonardo's — has been discovered in a forgotten manuscript in Ferrara, Italy.

Both drawings are depictions of a passage written 1,500 years earlier by Vitruvius, an ancient Roman architect, in which he describes a man's body fitting perfectly inside a circle (the divine symbol) and inside a square (the earthly symbol). It was a geometric interpretation of the ancient belief that man is a "microcosm": a miniature embodiment of the whole universe. Leonardo and other scholars revived this vainglorious notion during the Italian Renaissance.

After decades of study, Claudio Sgarbi, an Italian architectural historian who discovered the lesser known illustration of the Vitruvian man in 1986, now believes it to be the work of Giacomo Andrea de Ferrara, a Renaissance architect, expert on Vitruvius, and close friend of Leonardo's. What's more, Sgarbi believes Giacomo Andrea probably drew his Vitruvian man first, though the two men are likely to have discussed their mutual efforts.

Sgarbi will lay out his arguments in a volume of academic papers to be published this winter, Smithsonian Magazine reports.

The key arguments are as follows: In Leonardo's writings, he mentions "Giacomo Andrea's Vitruvius" — seemingly a direct reference to the illustrated Ferrara manuscript. Secondly, Leonardo had dinner with Giacomo Andrea in July 1490, the year in which both men are thought to have drawn their Vitruvian men. Experts believe Leonardo would have probed Giacomo Andrea's knowledge of Vitruvius when they met. And though both drawings interpret Vitruvius' words similarly, Leonardo's is perfectly executed, while Giacomo Andrea's is full of false starts and revisions, none of which would have been necessary if he had simply copied Leonardo's depiction. [Early Christian Lead Codices Now Called Fakes]

Other scholars find the arguments convincing.

"I find Sgarbi's argument exciting and very seductive, to say the least," said Indra McEwen, an architectural historian at Concordia University who has written extensively about the works of Vitruvius. "But [I] would opt for the view that Giacomo Andrea and Leonardo worked in tandem, rather than Leonardo basing his drawing on Andrea's."

Rather than competitors, the two Renaissance men were colleagues working together to bring a beautiful, ancient idea back to life.

"Whose was the 'original' drawing is a non-question as far as I'm concerned.  Much as it is a preoccupation of our own time, I don't think it would have been an issue in Leonardo's day," McEwen told Life's Little Mysteries.

Patrice Le Floch-Prigent, an anatomist at the University of Versailles in France who has analyzed the anatomical correctness of Leonardo's famous work, noted that, for both drawings, "the source is Vitruvius."

Furthermore, regardless of their chronology, Leonardo's work is an improvement on Giacomo Andrea's, McEwen said: "Leonardo is by far the superior draftsman, with a far superior understanding of anatomy."

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Did Leonardo da Vinci copy 'Vitruvian Man'?

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Leonardo's is also more faithful to the text, she explained.

"Nowhere does Vitruvius say that the man is positioned inside the circle and the square at the same time. 'A man lying flat on his back, can be circumscribed by a circle if his hands and feet are outstretched,' writes Vitruvius. Similarly, his height is equal to his arm span, 'just as in areas that have been squared with a set square.'"

Giacomo Andrea's figure has only one set of arms and legs, which are simultaneously circumscribed by a circle and outlined by a square, while "Leonardo deals with [the two propositions] by having the position of his man's arms and legs change. That, I would have to admit, makes his drawing a closer approximation to the textual description than Giacomo Andrea's," McEwen wrote.

One thing is certain. The better Vitruvian man gained international fame, while the simpler but possibly more original one was left to languish in a library for five centuries. That may have to do with the very different fates met by Leonardo and Giacomo Andrea. When the French invaded Milan in 1499, the former fled to safety and went on to achieve eternal renown. The latter stayed in Milan and was hanged, drawn and quartered by the French, and largely forgotten by history — until now.