Munch seller won’t miss his ‘Scream’

Norwegian artist Edvard Munch’s famed painting called Skriket (The Scream) was going on the auction block in New York Wednesday night, and its Norwegian seller says he won’t miss it. Petter Olsen, who inherited a fortune from his shipping family, plans to use the auction proceeds to put even more of his Munch collection on public display.

Petter Olsen has long had a great interest in art and grew up with Munch paintings hanging on the walls of his childhood home. Now Olsen has had a lot of media attention in Norway, like here in an interview on state broadcaster NRK, because he's selling the version of "The Scream" he inherited to help fund new projects and put more of his Munch art on public display. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/Views and News

“My parents told me that this was an important motif,” Olsen told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) over the weekend. “So I understood it was serious, this ‘great scream in the nature.’ That stood on the frame of a sign painted by Munch himself.”

But the painting also represented anxiety and Olsen said he frankly prefers other aspects of Munch’s art. Asked whether he would miss the painting, Olsen said “no, we probably would be a bit anxious ourselves to have it hanging here (in a new museum he’s building south of Oslo).”

Olsen said his family’s version of The Scream that Sotheby’s auction house thinks is worth at least USD 80 million (more than half-a-billion Norwegian kroner) hung on the wall in a corner of his childhood home.

“I grew up with it,” Olsen told DN. “When I was little, I thought it was a picture of a woman with long blond hair. I also saw the hidden trolls in other Munch paintings we had at home.”

Olsen’s wealthy shipowning family had supported several Norwegian painters including Munch, who even lived in a house on the family property along the Oslo fjord at Hvitsten where Olsen is building a new cultural institution and what he calls “the most secure museum in Norway.” In it, Olsen plans to display the collection of around 30 other Munch paintings and drawings that he also inherited after a bitter court battle with his much older brother Fred Olsen. Fred Olsen remains active in shipping and also founded the Timex watch company in addition to other real estate and offshore ventures, while Petter Olsen has involved himself in other projects.

Their mother Henriette had left the family’s art collection to Petter, which the Norwegian court system later verified, and the jewel of the collection was the only version of The Scream in private ownership. Three other versions are held by Norway’s National Gallery and Oslo’s Munch Museum.

Olsen thought it was now a good time to sell his version of The Scream. “It has something to do with knowing when to let something go, in order to realize something else,” Olsen said. “And part of that is to finance what can be a new art gallery accessible to the public out here (on the property at Hvitsten.)”

It already features a large outdoor garden, a park along the fjord and an amphitheater with seating for 200, where Olsen arranges an annual Shakespeare festival in June. Next year he aims to open the gallery and museum and in 2014, a small hotel on the property.

“The place will have a lot to offer,” said Olsen, not least allowing the public to see the area where Munch did a lot of his painting while living at Hvitsten around 1910. The shoreline and scenery can be seen in several of Munch’s paintings.

Olsen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he personally hoped the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York would be the winning bidder for The Scream, to allow more of the public to see it. If the painting slides back into private ownership, Scream lovers will just have to come to Oslo to see the other original versions, and then perhaps take a trip down to Olsen’s farm.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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