Sotheby’s David Norman recounts the mission to Oslo undertaken by four senior members of the Impressionist and Modern team at the auction house:
We signed in at the guard’s station, were buzzed through a double set of doors and escorted to a cold, bare room with a single fluorescent light and one table pushed against the center of the longest wall. We waited. A few minutes later, two men carried in a large, reinforced box. Automatic screw drivers spun with a grinding sound, one by one pulling up each screw. The lid was opened, the protective paper pulled aside and there before us was the most familiar image in the world — yet it was a shocking surprise to us. Before the endlessly referenced, infinitely disseminated image of angst and existential drama (a 20th-century notion which Munch felt and expressed decades in advance), we were struck by the work’s chromatic brilliance. […] The work was sealed and we were led out. Throughout the viewing we had all maintained a veneer of studied reserve, but as soon as we left the building, we burst into a frenzy of excitement, talking over each other about the picture, its status as an icon, and, of course, its potential value. This would be the stuff of auction history. The car awaited, but before heading to the airport to catch our plane back to London, we made a mad dash to both the National Gallery and the Munch Museum in order to compare the work we had just seen to the three other versions of The Scream before that initial startling viewing receded.
First the Munch Museum. The earliest version, from 1893, read like the study it has long been thought to be: more summarily executed, limited in color and lacking the details of the pastel we had just seen. The 1910 version was a late reprise; the movement of the landscape and sky were nearly psychedelic. The figure appeared to be on the verge of melting, with greater shadows and hollows in the face; this is the only version in which there are no dark spots denoting the eyes — it is nearly blind. Instead of the beady black irises, there are just the edges of the bony sockets. Neither work seemed to have the power and impact of the pastel. […] Finally the National Gallery version, also from 1893, the one that Munch placed in the great Frieze of Life. It was larger, darker and more terrifying than the two in the Munch Museum. It exudes the force of Munch’s singular vision, which he translated into a universal image of the human condition, without place or time constraining it.
Mission to Oslo (Sotheby’s)