Munch’s art now harder to sell

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Prices fetched for works by famed Norwegian painter Edvard Munch have dipped recently, with some auctioneers struggling to sell works on the block. Bids have been lower than expected with many of his paintings remaining unsold, but hopes were high for an auction in Oslo this week.

Works by famed Norwegian artist Edvard Munch seem to have lost some of the sales appeal in recent years, after his iconic "Scream" broke records in 2012. A poster version adorns the Tøyen metro station in Oslo, which is the stop closest to the Munch Museum. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Works by famed Norwegian artist Edvard Munch seem to have lost some of the sales appeal in recent years, after his iconic “Scream” broke records in 2012. A poster version adorns the Tøyen metro station in Oslo, which is the stop closest to the Munch Museum. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The graphic works of Munch are still generally sought-after, reports newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), and several are on offer at Grev Wedels Plass Auksjoner (GWPA)’s annual Munch auction on Wednesday. A total of 50 works including pencil sketches on paper, lithographs and woodcuts are up for sale, valued at a total of around NOK 25 million (USD 2.8 million).

DN reported that Munch’s paintings recently have proven surprisingly hard to sell. Only 40 of Munch’s paintings have been put up for auction during the past five years, and only half of these found a new home.

Munch expert Morten Zondag confirmed that the artist’s popularity has declined somewhat. He told DN about a conversation he had with a Munch collector in the US: “This person was tired of seeing weak Munch images offered for a price that was far too high. Much of what has circulated on the market in recent years have been weak images, and some of them have a tendency to be overrepresented.”

The statistics support Zondag’s explanation. Even though Munch’s masterpiece Scream went for a staggering USD 119 million in 2012, many of his other paintings have failed to sway potential buyers. One example was in 2010 when Norwegian businessman Stein Erik Hagen unsuccessfully tried to sell the painting Fruktbarhet (Fertility) at an auction. The piece was appraised at NOK 150 million-210 million (USD 17 million-24 million at current exchange rates), but it proved to be a price no one in the room was willing to pay.

Many of the Munch images up for sale more recently have also been offered repeatedly, resulting in significantly lower prices when they ultimately did sell.

Even though Munch’s appeal seems to have faded, his graphic works have remained among the best sellers in the world. Included in the offerings at Wednesday’s auction in Oslo (external link) are two hand-coloured lithographs on sale together of History and Alma Mater, large murals of which adorn the University of Oslo’s Aula. They’re among the most expensive at the auction, appraised at USD 230,000 to 350,000. A hand-coloured version of History was stolen from a gallery at Skillebekk in Oslo in 2009 and never recovered, but both the gallery owner and auctioneer Hans Richard Elgheim stress that the one up for sale this week is another version. DN reported that the two lithographs being sold together were stored away for years and were being sold as part of an inheritance settlement.

While Munch’s graphic works more easily find buyers, one recent sale indicated some significant softening in that market as well. DN reported last week that a hand-coloured print of Munch’s Madonna, found in the closet of a house in New York, sold for USD 730,000 at Sotheby’s, including the fees of more than 20 percent charged by the auction house. The price was far below the appraised value, which had been set at as high as USD 1.5 million.

newsinenglish.no/Axel Johnson