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Munch's ‘The Scream’ to sell for $80m

Edvard Munch's "The Scream" is at much of the chatter this spring art auction season. The painting is expected to sell for at least $80 million.

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One of the art world's most recognisable images - Edvard Munch's The Scream - could sell for $US80 million ($A77.64 million) or more when it is auctioned in New York.

The 1895 painting of a man holding his head and screaming under a streaked, blood-red sky has become a modern symbol for human anxiety, popularised in movies and plastered on everything from mugs to T-shirts.

It is one of four versions created by the Norwegian expressionist painter. Three are in Norwegian museums. The one at the Sotheby's auction is the only one left in private hands. It is being sold by Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen on Wednesday, whose father was a friend and patron of the artist.

Safety first ... Sotheby's employees pose for a photograph with Edvard Munch's painting "The Scream".

Safety first ... Sotheby's employees pose for a photograph with the painting. Photo: Reuters

A price tag of $80 million would be among the highest ever for an artwork. The record is $US106.5 million ($A103.36 million) for Picasso's "Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust," sold in 2010 by Christie's in New York.

Sotheby's said its pastel-on-board version of "The Scream" is the most colorful and vibrant of the four and the only version whose frame was hand-painted by the artist to include his poem, detailing the work's inspiration.

In the poem, Munch described himself "shivering with anxiety" and said he felt "the great scream in nature."

Proceeds from the sale will go for the establishment of a new museum, art center and hotel in Hvitsten, Norway, where Olsen's father and Munch were neighbours.

"I have lived with this work all my life, and its power and energy have only increased with time," Olsen said in February. "Now, however, I feel the moment has come to offer the rest of the world a chance to own and appreciate this remarkable work."

The director of the National Museum in Oslo, Audun Eckhoff, says Norwegian authorities approved the Munch sale since the other versions of the composition are in Norwegian museums. One version is owned by the National Museum and two others by the Munch Museum, also in Oslo.

Sotheby's said a total of eight works have sold for $80 million or more at auction.

Only two other works besides Picasso's "Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust" have sold for more than $100 million at auction. Those are Picasso's "Boy With a Pipe (The Young Apprentice)" for $US104.1 million ($A101.03 million) in 2004 and Alberto Giacometti's "Walking Man I" for $US104.3 million ($A101.23 million) in 2010.

AP