[singlepic id=154 w=320 h=240 float=left] Some of the rarest and most exquisite works of art in London can be found not at the major galleries, but at Christie’s or Sotheby’s. Exhibitions here can be fleeting, and unique, as great masters pass from one super-rich owner to another. This weekend only, at Sotheby’s there is a once in a lifetime chance to see the original of one of the most famous paintings in the world – Edvard Munch’s “the Scream”. I urge you to go and see it. The picture, which is due to go on auction in New York next month, may be sold for as much as $80m, and while there are three other versions, all in Norway, you may never see this one again.
It’s unique in that it is the most colourful, and most personal of the four. I had expected it to be monochorome and depressing – in fact the red, orange and yellow of the setting sun over the hill at Ekeberg near Oslo, are brilliant and make a startling contrast with the sombre blues and blacks of the fjiord. And the centerpiece, of the wraith-like face caught in its shriek, is hypnotising. The catastrophes that followed the creation of the Scream have rendered it iconic in world art. Not many people could name another Munch painting, and indeed there are another 4 at the show, which do not receive (or frankly, merit) anything like the same attention. Munch wrote in his diary in 1892 “I was walking along a path with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature”.
Having spent a wet weekend in Oslo myself, I think I can appreciate the feeling. Bloody Saturday night. Elk burger. Again.
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The exhibition is focused in a very dramatic way on this single painting. But there is a great deal more to see, including a superb Gaugin, “cabine sur les abres”, shown on the left, as well as six Magrittes, a Chagall, “coq rouge dans la nuit”, and a smattering of Picassos, Miros, a very nice Dali, and too many more to mention.
[singlepic id=156 w=240 h=400 float=left] Except one. Tucked away around the corner from the Scream and the Picassos et al, is one of the most important Francis Bacon pictures to surface in recent years, “Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror”. It really took my breath away, in a way that no other painting in the show had done. It is pretty much full size, and is completely arresting. It doesn’t look beautiful in this small picture on the left, but it is extraordinarily moving in the flesh. Bacons have set records for post-war prices – the last one was bought by Roman Abramovitch for an incredible $86.3m. Sotherby’s estimate this one at between $30-$40m. In any other show the Bacon would be the start of the show. In this wonderful exhibition, it is just tucked away in a side gallery, one of dozens of superb pictures on display.
This show ends on Sunday 15/3 at 5pm. The security around it is extraordinary (three separate scans!), and the lines will get quite large I suspect as word gets round. But don’t miss it.