Munch’s $120 million ‘Scream’ dominates 2012 auctions

The high-end art market plowed ahead in 2012 as collectors looked for alternatives to the stock market volatility amid the European debt crisis and U.S. concerns about a new budget.

The top 10 priciest lots added up to $594.6 million, a 44 percent increase from $413.6 million in 2011, according to Bloomberg calculations.

Lucrative estates and looming changes in the U.S. tax code brought trophy works to the block. Numerous artist records included Edvard Munch's "The Scream," crowned as the most expensive artwork at auction.

"A lot of collectors thought it was time to take their winnings off the table because they weren't sure what the tax rate is going to be," said Michael Plummer, a principal of Artvest, a New York-based firm that provides investment advice for the art market.

Here are the year's 10 most valuable artworks.

1. Munch's "The Scream" set a record for a work of art at auction when it sold for $119.9 million at Sotheby's on May 2. The result smashed the previous top auction price of $106.5 million, established in May 2010 by Pablo Picasso's "Nude, Green Leaves and Bust."

The picture was consigned by Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen, whose father, Thomas, was a friend, neighbor and patron of the artist.

2. Mark Rothko's fiery "Orange, Red, Yellow" sold for $86.9 million at Christie's International in New York on May 8. The 1961 painting was one of 13 artworks being sold from the estate of David Pincus, the retired chairman of apparel manufacturer Pincus Brothers-Maxwell, who died in December 2011.

3. Rothko's "No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue)" sold for $75.1 million at Sotheby's in New York on Nov. 13. The Rothko was consigned by Anne Marion, owner of Burnett Cos. in Fort Worth, Tex., whose husband, John L. Marion, had been Sotheby's chairman and chief auctioneer.

4. A Raphael drawing sold for 29.7 million pounds ($47.8 million) at Sotheby's in London on Dec. 5, an auction record for a western work on paper.

The black chalk "Head of a Young Apostle" was being sold by Peregrine Cavendish, the 12th Duke of Devonshire and deputy chairman of Sotheby's, to raise money to preserve his home, Chatsworth House.

5. A watercolor landscape by 20th-century Chinese artist Li Keran sold for 293.2 million yuan ($46 million) at Poly International in Beijing, on June 3. Executed in 1964, "Mountains in Red" was the largest of seven such landscapes inspired by a Mao Zedong poem.

6. Roy Lichtenstein's 1964 painting "Sleeping Girl" sold for $44.9 million at Sotheby's in New York on May 9, an auction record for the Pop artist.

The image of a sultry blonde had been in the collection of Phil and Beatrice Gersh, who bought it from the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1964. The Gershes were founding members of the city's Museum of Contemporary Art. Beatrice Gersh died last year; her husband, a former Hollywood agent, died in 2004.

7. Francis Bacon's "Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror" tied with the Lichtenstein at $44.9 million at the same Sotheby's sale. It was the highest price for the British artist since the record sale of his "Triptych" for $86.3 million in 2008.

8. Andy Warhol's 1962 "Statue of Liberty" sold for $43.8 million at Christie's in New York on Nov. 14. The statue was depicted 24 times, in four rows of six images. Silkscreened in red over green ink on white background, the work was designed to be viewed through 3-D glasses.

9. A Claude Monet painting of water lilies tied with the Warhol at $43.8 million. The 1905 canvas led Christie's Impressionist and modern art evening sale on Nov. 7 in New York. The trophy from Wall Street executive Herbert Allen Sr. was the second-priciest Monet at auction.

10. Picasso's 1932 painting of his mistress, Marie-Therese Walter, fetched $41.5 million at Sotheby's in New York on Nov. 8. The canvas, "Nature Morte aux Tulipes," depicted Walter's sculpted white head on a pedestal next to a bouquet of tulips and some sexually suggestive fruit.

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