Edvard Munch's The Scream painting comes to auction at Sotheby's

There are only a handful of paintings which the great majority of people can conjure up before their minds at will, and that are known all over the world.

One of these must surely be Edvard Munch's The Scream: a work more instantly recognisable than any individual Picasso and on a par with Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and Michelangelo's Creation of Adam (from the Sistine Chapel).

Neither of the latter two are for sale, or likely to be in the foreseeable future, but The Scream is - or rather one version of the four in existence is to be offered at auction; it is the only one in private hands.

Not that the fact this version of The Scream is the only one likely to be available for sale any time soon has stopped others trying to get hold of one. Two of the other versions have been stolen in the past couple of decades, (though both were eventually recovered), such is the draw of the painting.

The work has influenced pastiche works of art, cartoons, adverts and more besides. In 2011, the world famous BBC science fiction show Doctor Who saw a race of terrifying aliens known as The Silence whose appearance was derived from the main figure in The Scream painting.

Edvard Munch The Scream
The Olsen version of Edvard Munch The Scream

This version of the work is owned by Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen, whose father Thomas was a friend and sponsor of Munch. It is to be shown in London for the first time ever ahead of the sale - in fact it has scarcely been seen since it was first passed over by Munch to Olsen, being exhibited just the once in New York.

"I have lived with this work all my life, and its power and energy have only increased with time," commented Petter Olsen, the consignor of The Scream. "Now however, I feel the moment has come to offer the rest of the world a chance to own and appreciate this remarkable work, which is the only version of The Scream not in the collection of a Norwegian museum."

This version of the work, painted in 1895, is unique in several ways: it is the most vibrant and colourful of the four, arguably best capturing Munch's Expressionist desire to paint psychological experience, rather than visual.

It is also the only version on the frame of which the artist painted his poem detailing the work's inspiration:

"I was walking along the road with two Friends
the Sun was setting - The Sky turned a bloody red
And I felt a whiff of Melancholy - I stood
Still, deathly tired - over the blue-black
Fjord and City hung Blood and Tongues of Fire
My Friends walked on - I remained behind
- shivering with Anxiety - I felt the great Scream in Nature - EM"

Sotheby's has estimated the painting at $80m in its May 2012 auction - but we think it will easily go for more. Will it challenge Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves and Bust for the auction record, or even Cezanne's Card Players for the overall record?

Watch this space to find out. In the meantime, take a look at this rather more affordable item which would also bring a collector close to a great artist: a letter handwritten by Claude Monet.

Featured products

Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Sale price£399
In stock
Fidel Castro signed certificateFidel Castro Signed Certificate
Fidel Castro signed certificate
Sale price£2,995
In stock
King Henry VIII Autographed DocumentKing Henry VIII Autographed Document
King Henry VIII Autographed Document
Sale price£55,000
In stock